Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Title: The Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date: February 2005
ISBN-13: 978-0689865381

Plot Summary: Tally Youngblood cannot wait until her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be given an operation to become a pretty.  Then she can leave the dorm where all the uglies live and move across the river to New Pretty Town, where the pretties just have fun and can party all the time.  Her best friend, Peris, had the operation on his birthday three month earlier, and Tally has felt lonely ever since he left.

That is, until she meets Shay.  Another ugly like herself, Shay also enjoys sneaking out and causing trouble, and can’t wait to leave Uglyville.  She tells Tally about her friend, David, who didn’t want the operation and lives in a mysterious place called the Smoke, where everyone chooses to stay ugly.  On the night before their shared birthday, Shay reveals that she’s planning to run away to the Smoke, and wants Tally to join her.

When Tally chooses to stay behind and receive the operation, an organization called the Special Circumstances forces her to follow Shay and help them find the Smoke – or else she can never become a pretty.

Critical Evaluation: The Uglies is the first in a science fiction series that Scott Westerfeld wrote for teens, and the strength of the book is in the questions it raises about the societal worship of beauty, and also environmental concerns.  The first issue is the most obvious message – is there any harm in venerating physical beauty?  Of course in Tally’s society, there is an obvious harm, because the operation also affects the brain and personality to create a conformist culture, but the question remains relevant when just considering the interaction between the Uglies and the Pretties (whenever Tally sees a Pretty up close, like her friend Peris, she can’t help but become awestruck), and when considering our own society’s obsession with beauty.  If offered a chance to get free plastic surgery – how many of our sixteen year olds would say no?

Another issue it raises is concern for the environment.  In Tally’s futuristic world, everything has been programmed to be self-sustaining.  When she comes to the Smoke, she is appalled to learn that they actually cut down trees and use wood to burn fires.  While we are nowhere near living in a completely sustainable world, her concerns may cause readers to think of ways that they can make a difference.  While I found the story itself occasionally lagged, I thought the issues that the book raised were worthwhile, and I hope that teen readers continue to think about them.

Reader’s Annotation: When Tally turns sixteen, she will finally receive the operation that transforms her from an awkward ugly into an attractive pretty, her only job to party all the time.  But when her friend Shay reveals that she plans to run away and never become a pretty, Tally starts to realize that there may be good reasons to avoid getting the operation.

Author Information: Scott Westerfeld is the author of the young adult series The Uglies, as well as science fiction titles for adults.  Born in Texas, Westerfeld married an Australian author (Justine Larbalestier) in 2001 and now divides his time between Sydney and New York City (depending on which hemisphere is enjoying summer!).  Before becoming a full-time novelist, Westerfeld worked as a substitute teacher, a textbook editor and a ghost writer.  He also enjoys composing music.

When asked about the difference between writing adult novels and YA novels, Westerfeld says, “The main difference is that the storytelling in YA is much more straightforward and direct: no lollygagging. Perhaps I’m a bit more language-focused in my YA work (teens are more into slang, poetry, and nicknames than adults), and my YA probably protags are a bit more uncomfortable in their own skin, in that teenage way. But I think that my basic themes and techniques are pretty much the same.” (Source)

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be used in discussions about psychology, sociology, environmental issues.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) What makes Tally decide that she wants to defy the Specials?
2) What are the pros and cons to living in the Smoke?
3) Would it be worth it to be perfectly beautiful if you lost part of your personality?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: allusions to partying and alcohol

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: In the bookstore where I work, The Uglies is consistently a popular series for teen readers.  One of my coworkers, who is in high school, also recommended it and lent me her copy.


Scott Westerfeld’s blog.

The Uglies series downloadable wallpapers, screensavers, and more at Simon and Schuster.


March 24, 2010 - Posted by | Books |

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