Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Summary: Tally Youngblood can't wait to turn 16. That's when she'll stop being an "ugly" (basically a teen) and get turned into a "pretty" via the operation everyone gets at 16. Then she'll get to live in New Pretty Town (rather than Uglyville) where you don't have to do anything but party and be gorgeous. As the youngest in her dorm, Tally's all alone until she turns 16 at the end of the summer, until she meets Shay while out hover-boarding and playing pranks at night. Shay, shockingly, doesn't want to be pretty and she tells Tally about the Smoke, a settlement in the wilderness where conscientious objectors defect to escape the operation. When Shay runs away, she leaves cryptic directions to the Smoke, in case Tally wants to follow. Unfortunately, just before her operation, Tally is brought in by Special Circumstances (also known as "cruel pretties") because they think she knows where the Smoke is. When the evil Dr. Cable threatens Tally with being ugly forever, Tally sets off to the Smoke with a tracking device to activate when she arrives. At first Tally thinks she's saving Shay (and herself) from a terrible, ugly life but when she meets David, a young rebel leader who grew up in the Smoke and learns about the dark side of the pretty operation, she changes her mind. But will it be too late for the Smoke?
My thoughts: I'd been wanting to read this for ages! I'm so glad I did. I'm not usually a dystopian fan, but this was such a page-turner, I can't wait to read the sequels.
I did think that it had a pretty heavy-handed environmental message (clear-cutting, pollution, etc. have all been eradicated and the "Rusties" - basically us - are seen as idiots), which was a bit irritating in spots. And it had that thing about dystopian fiction that I find jarring - the ancestors of the people are always stupid - look at what they did to the planet, they were so racist, we're so clever, etc. Oh, yeah, those drugs in the water supply? That chip in your head? It's all for the Greater Good, it's why we're so happy. I guess that's the point, really, that no society is perfect. But I'd still rather have the problems of today that we're working on solving than a chip in my head. (Note, there's not a chip in this book, just an example. Didn't want to spoil it.)
The notion of everyone being beautiful was quite something. At one point the girls are looking at a 300-year-old magazine photo of an anorexic model and they can't believe anyone ever had the not-eating disease or that people were discriminated against based on skin colour. When everyone's equally beautiful, those problems seem to vanish. (Although it would probably eventually turn into the hair-colour or eye-colour wars.) On the surface, it really seems quite logical.
But as I finished the book this morning, I was thinking that all the Pretties basically become Paris Hilton - constant partying, drinking, having whatever you want on demand, adoration, only having to worry about what to wear and where the next party is. There's even a (male) character called Peris, although I think the book was written before the height of Paris-mania. And the sad thought occurs to me with Paris being such a huge idol, so many young women aspire to this exact lifestyle - no need to use one's brain or to work hard. With the increase of plastic surgery in young women, maybe a future pretty operation to celebrate "growing up" isn't so far in the scary future.
What I learned about Faith: She's a dystopian fan and appreciates a fine YA novel. And I agree with what she said in her blurb for the book "I cannot deny that if someone were to give me the opportunity to become earth-shakingly beautiful, I’d want to take it. And if it were to come at the expense of my brains, would the offer still be so tempting? Knowing that fact, it would not. But the people in this world don’t know it." As someone who could use liposuction, a height extension, and better hair, I found the thought verrrry tempting at the beginning of the book and thought it wasn't a bad idea (like I said above, I can see the logic). But if I had to give up my personality, well, no.