Uglies – Scott Westerfeld


I’ve just finished reading Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a dystopian YA novel essentially dealing with the cult of beauty. When children reach the age of 16, they are given plastic surgery to transform them from “Uglies” to “Pretties”. The children are brought up indoctrinated with the belief that society can only survive and be free from all forms of ugliness (jealousy, war, all manifestations of inner ugliness) through being transformed into one of the “Pretties”.

I can’t help but think this book would promote excellent discussion with students about the reality of the cult of beauty. But so far (I have only read book 1 from the series) I am frustrated because the protagonist, Tally, only comes to question her beliefs through the gaze of a male (a male love interest tells her she is not ugly but beautiful), and because she learns that the transformation includes tinkering with the brain to make most Pretties vacuous and obedient (i.e. the transformation would be perfectly OK if it wasn’t for the brain alteration). These two issues bother me a lot, and I am thinking about writing something more detailed and theoretical to critique the book. I’d be interested to hear other opinions about the book, and I will save my final judgements until I read book 2 in the series (not sure I’ll manage all 4 though!).


3 thoughts on “Uglies – Scott Westerfeld

  1. I think this would be a perfect text on which to base a short paper :) If you’re thinking more broadly, would you consider the ethnic construction of ‘beauty’ as well in the Westerfield texts? Some of my third-years wrote on *Uglies* last year in relation to ‘post-human’ bodies. It’s a useful text, but I must admit that it wasn’t as startling it terms of its narrative or construction as I expected it to be be.

  2. Thanks for your comment Trish, Yes, its complicated isn’t it, because on the one hand Westerfeld is setting up the “thin white body” for critique, but I just don’t think he does justice to it – it doesn’t work for me anyway. I may write a paper on it – still thinking about it :)

  3. Unfortunately the next two books lose any attempt to critique social values and move into action-comic-book territory with ever more outlandish implants and surgeries, and the story arc devolves into your standard rebel-against-the-tyrannical-system/dictator sort of plot.

    I quite enjoyed the first book but it’s the same with other YA novels: they start with an interesting premise and then hold back from really delving into it or critiquing it etc. Recently had the same problem with the Divergent books; read the last one recently and it was very frustrating that she set up a very interesting discourse and then failed to engage with it.

    But it’s hard to know, reading these books as adults, whether teenagers are getting more from them than we are, perhaps because they’re at the beginning of these kinds of conversations whereas we’re further along…?

    (Shannon Badcock)

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