Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Consider the orchids of the fields. They neither weave nor
sew. Nor do I suspect they sit in the field wondering if the next flower over
is prettier. But humans do.

Yes, I know in the Bible it is lilies, but in Scott
Westerfeld’s book, Uglies, it is
orchids, beautiful and once rare, white orchids that have been genetically
modified to become hardy that take over and crowd out other plants, leaching
the soil and finally leaving the earth barren. This is just a symbol, but it is
a powerful one.

Because in Tally Youngblood’s world, everyone goes through a
surgery at the age of sixteen and comes out the other side with skin scrubbed
of imperfections and scars, eyes modified, height changed, and pretty. Just as
pretty as everyone else. Beautiful as orchids running amuck in the world.

Uglies is the
first in a trilogy of books for young adults (Pretties and Specials are
the other two books in the series. But don’t let the trek into the young adult
section deter you. There is a lot here and it is well worth the read. Fifteen
year-old Tally Youngblood has made a new friend, Shay, who isn’t sure whether
she wants to have the surgery and become a pretty. She thinks she just might
want to be who she is. When Shay runs off, Tally runs afoul of Special
Circumstances, who tell her she cannot become a pretty herself unless she finds
and returns Shay.

So off Tally Youngblood goes, following a cryptic set of
instructions from Shay, to find a group of people who have never turned pretty,
hiding out in the woods. She finds it and the transformation of Tally’s ideas,
from seeing the world of pretties as a good thing to appreciating imperfection
is subtle and well done. She doesn’t change her mind. There is no tweaking of
character to make her stay there. It is all well done.

The book moves along quickly and keeps you engrossed, always
a plus. There is a final, big secret about the surgery that most readers will
guess beforehand. I don’t think it is necessary myself. But it is the driving
force that catapults you into the second book.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s The
Poisonwood Bible
, an adult Adah says she didn’t want her disability fixed,
she wanted it accepted. I’ve always been a believer that imperfections are a
gift. What happens when all those gifts are scrubbed away? Uglies offers one answer.

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