Uglies, Pretties, Specials

For me trying to be clever often backfires. To wit, when I heard only good things about Scott Westerfeld's new book Uglies, the first in a trilogy, I thought I would wait until all three books were published before I read them so I wouldn't have to be wait between books. This is kind of a compromise because while I didn't have to fret about the specifics of what was happening to Tally Youngblood, the main character, I did have to clamp my hands over my ears when other people were discussing the books so I wouldn't hear a spoiler. Anyway, this weekend I finally dove into the books and I'm glad I waited because they're nerve-wracking adrenaline adventure rushes and I would have gone nuts if I couldn't read them one after another, kind of like eating potato chips I suppose. But of course it didn't work out quite the way I expected because on Saturday I read that the author has released a new book in the series called Extras, with a whole new cast of characters. I'm doomed to wait despite all my strategy.

In Uglies Tally Youngblood is waiting to turn sixteen. Her best friend Peris has already reached the magic number, which means he's moved on to a life of nonstop fun, partying and beauty. But poor Tally is one of the last kids in her class still stuck in the dorms, doomed to be ugly until her birthday. Bored out of her skull she sneaks across the river to the palace where Peris lives to reaffirm their vows of best friends forever. But when she gets there, wearing a mask so none of the brand new pretties can tell she hasn't had the surgery to make her extraordinarily lovely like them, Peris has changed, appearing bubble headed and vague. He makes her promise to do nothing to endanger their future together and she flees by setting off the fire alarm and jumping off the building, saved from splatting to the ground by an emergency bungee jacket. As wardens converge on the area to find the troublemaker she thinks she is discovered when she encounters someone in the woods. But the stranger isn't a warden, it's another lonely almost sixteen-year-old called Shay who is about to change Tally's life, worldview and way of thinking forever.

Shay teaches Tally how to ride a hoverboard, a device that sounds to me like a surfboard that flies through the air, then takes her to a nearby deserted city. Tally has never really been out of the city before and as the two friends spend the next months exploring and pulling ever wilder pranks she also starts to think more about the way her society works and why. When Shay says she's not going to have the surgery and become a pretty Tally is shocked but agrees to keep her secret. Once Shay has gone into the wild Tally is desperately lonely but tries to hang on for the next few days until her surgery when she'll be allowed to cross the river and join her older friends in pretty town.

But to her horror her operation doesn’t start as planned. Instead she's taken to a dreary building on the edge of town she meets a cruel and terrifying woman named Dr. Cable who is a member of a force called Special Circumstances. The scary doctor knows that Shay left coded directions for Tally and demands that Tally find the runaways and trigger a homing beacon that will allow Special Circumstances to find all of the escaped teenagers and force them to return to the city. If Tally doesn't betray her friend then she will die an ugly, shunned by her entire society.

Now I realize when I said Tally's life would change forever that doesn't necessarily mean anything. After all our lives change all the time and we have thousands of saying to reflect this truth: the more things change the more they stay the same, you never step in the same river twice, etc. But when change comes to Tally Youngblood it comes with a vengeance. As she journeys alone though the wild in search of Shay she awakens and begins to think in an entirely new way. The growth she sustains will become a core part of her that she will need as she is manipulated both physically and mentally throughout the rest of the three book series.

My youngest son is fifteen and he read these books right after I did, picking each one up as I finished it. We've spent the last week discussing some of the difficult subjects raised in the trilogy; betrayal, utopias and how they become dystopias, conservation, body modification, what exactly makes a person who they are and what aspects of a personality can be peeled away and vocabulary. We often read and talk about the same books but it's unusual for us to enjoy a series so much and have so many philosophical ideas to discuss. It's always nice to get an extra bonus when you're reading for pleasure. You can read an excerpt here.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is a little different. We have two conflicting views of the new X-Box 360 game Halo 3. Shipe says, "Halo 3 is teh sux." But Shiny Pebble has a different reaction, saying, "Shipe, you misspelled sex," before giving the rest of his comments. "You die too quickly but it works well in the multi-player. It's patently untrue that there is no new game play. There is a whole system of items that you can carry from radar-jammers to portable shields to shield drainers that add a whole new tactical layer to game play. There are several distinct new weapons and the old weapons have been revamped to give them a unique feel. The new forge system is an excellent form of custom map generation and the best I've seen on a console game as well as being just a fun place to mess around with your friends. While it didn't shatter my expectations it lived up to them, which is pretty impressive in its own right." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.