Name of Book: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Audience: Ages 12 and up.
Summary: Westerfeld’s page-turning novel opens just weeks before Tally Youngblood’s 16th birthday. In a near-future utopian society, Tally is an “ugly” – a young person who has not yet been surgically transformed into a “pretty.” As Tally and her friends look forward to the time when they can cross the river, be made pretty, and enjoy a life of beautiful leisure, they play pranks, make mischief, and spy on the new pretties. But one day, Tally meets the rebellious Shay and is taken on an adventure toward understanding the deeper meaning of beauty. As she pursues her runaway friend into “The Smoke,” Tally finds herself regretting her decisions and wanting to set right a betrayal that proves to have disastrous consequences.
Literary elements at work in the story: This science fiction novel for teens is rife with conflict; Tally struggles with her understanding of herself, her society, her friends, and everything she knows about the path to adulthood. Westerfeld uses each instance of conflict to develop Tally’s sense of independence, strength, and courage. By the end of the novel the reader appreciates Tally’s self-reliance in the service to others, rather than the simple trickery and adventure-for-adventure’s sake that she enjoyed earlier in the novel. Additionally, Westerfeld provides for the reader a setting that is futuristic but highly believable. The reader can almost imagine riding the hoverboard over the “Rusty Ruins” that are eerily reflective of our own time. Finally, with an overarching theme that questions beauty as an end in itself, this novel provides an excellent source of dialogue about self-image, societal pressure, individual worth, and free will.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability: Westerfeld explores a dysfunctional futuristic society with a critical view toward contemporary Western culture. While homogeneity and perfection are celebrated in Tally’s world, the reader soon realizes the beauty of free thought, diversity, and complex human relationships. Although race is not specifically addressed in overt ways, the implication is that upon one’s 16th birthday, one is made to look just similar to the other new pretties – with some skin lightened and some skin darkened, among other changes. Everyone is ultimately moved toward an appearance that is deemed beautiful by the standards committee. However, Tally and her new friends question the imposed standards that effectively remove individual differences. Throughout Tally’s adventure, Westerfeld celebrates those abilities and qualities that make her unique and that allow the people of The Smoke to live on their own, think critically about societal and ethical issues, and find hope in the complexity of life.
Theological Conversation Partners: Psalm 139; the goodness of creation; the nature of beauty; remorse; free will
Faith Talk Questions:
- What makes a person beautiful? In what ways can a person’s beauty be destroyed or eclipsed?
- The goodness and beauty of God’s creation is celebrated throughout scripture. How does Westerfeld’s society in Uglies distort the notion that God’s creation is inherently good?
- The novel explores Tally’s feelings of regret and remorse over her betrayal of the Smoke. How do her feelings cause her to change?
- How have you been changed by facing those things you regret having done?
- Consider Tally’s use of free will and Special Circumstances’ attempt to thwart free will. How do the concepts of free will and beauty intertwine throughout the novel?
- God gave humanity free will at creation. While free will allows some to thwart God’s intention for creation, it allows others to experience the joy of meeting God’s call to love and serve others. Where do you see these ideas in the novel and in your own life?
- In what way is Tally’s sacrifice at the end of the novel an appropriate conclusion to her journey?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Catherine Lovejoy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Books written for Grades 5-8 (Ages 10 -13), Books written for Grades 9 - 12 (Ages 14-17), Fantasy/Science Fiction, High School Students, Middle Schoolers Tagged: | beauty, betrayal, free will, regret, sacrifice, science fiction