Uglies: young adult sf that perfectly captures adolescent anxiety

This December, I went away on holidays with my family and brought along a stack of reading. One pair of books that everyone took a crack at was the first two volumes of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, Uglies and Pretties, a pair of young adult novels that had us all on tenterhooks.

Scott has two careers — on the one hand, he writes science fiction for adults, and on the other, he writes wonderful young adult genre novels (see previous reviews of Scott's Peeps, a science-fictional take on vampirism and So Yesterday, a mystery novel about a cool-hunter — and don't miss his knockout horror trilogy, Midnighters). Uglies falls into the latter category.

Uglies is the story of a dystopian world where children are raised by the state and subjected to mandatory cosmetic surgery at 16, wherein they are rendered physically "perfect" on the basis that symmetrical, statistically average people with giant eyes are charismatic, convincing, and are afforded advantages by their peers; in the twisted logic of the Westerfeld's state, imposing this surgery on all creates an egalitarian basis for society. No one is heeded merely because she is beautiful; no idea is disregarded because it originates with someone who is ugly.

The novels tell the story of Tally Youngblood, a 16-year-old small-time rebel who becomes embroiled in a scheme to avoid the surgery, leading to her exile and eventual encounters with outsiders, secret police, and the gradual, sinister unravelling of the dark secret of the compassionate society.

The Uglies books are the perfect parables of adolescent life, where adult-imposed milestones, rituals, and divide-and-rule tactics amp children's natural adolescent insecurities into a full-blown, decade-long psychosis. They're the kind of book I loved reading at 15 or 16: damned fine science fiction and damned fine yarns. Having read the first two, I can barely wait for the third, Specials, due out in May 06.

Uglies Link,

Pretties Link