Scott Westerfield has quickly established himself as one of the premier writers of young adult fiction. I think this is because he develops worlds and situations that mean something to people.
In the world of Uglies there is not strife or war. All needs and wants are provided for. At the age of sixteen people go through an extensive operation that makes them ‘pretty’. Before that they are all ‘ugly’. How many times do teenagers look at themselves and think, “If only my nose were smaller, or my eyes bigger, or my forehead not so high, or my hair wavier, or I had clearer skin.” In a world where those dreams and desires and wishes of adolescence can become reality what would make one teenage girl leave that all behind and choose to defy the authorities and remain ‘ugly’, forever.
This is the question that Scott Westerfield asks and answers quite poignantly in Uglies.
When Tally’s best friend Shay runs away to remain ugly forever Tally is told that if she doesn’t bring her back then she too will never be made pretty. Tally, distraught at the sudden disruption of all of her dreams sets off into the wilderness to find Shay.
Her adventures begin when she learns about the dreadful secret behind the pretty operation and is faced with the decision of following her dreams to have a perfect face and body or to remain ugly for the rest of her life.
This story felt like it would particularly powerful to young girls who, in our society, are taught to think that perfect looks is really what is important. Westerfield does a beautiful job of weaving an answer to the question of the importance of image with a fast-paced story of a young girl learning to grow up and make decisions for herself.
One of the failings of writers of young adult books is that they rarely remember how powerful teenage emotions can be. It’s almost like they are played for laughs. Westerfield is one of the few who realizes that, although teenage emotions tend to be more volatile than adults they are no less real. This adds another layer of depth to his already well-layered story.
Uglies is the first of a trilogy and I intend to read the entire series, as well as anything else that he has written. I was entranced by the impact of the questions and philosophies that are discussed in this story and unable to put it down for the sheer adventure of it.