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Scott Westerfeld

Publishing Information: Simon Pulse: New York, 2005
ISBN: 0689865384
: 448 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Tally should be getting the mandatory operation that will turn her Pretty, but instead she must choose to betray her friend or stay Ugly forever.

Book Talk:
Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license -- for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world -- and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Beauty, Personal
Personal Appearance
Science Fiction
Surgery, Plastic
Teenage Girls

Awards & Reviews:
Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best for Teens, 2005
Kirkus Editor's Choice, 2005
New York Public Library's "Books for the Teen Age", 2005
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, 2005
Texas Lone Star Reading List, 2006-2007
VOYA's Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, 2005
YALSA Best Books For Young Adults, 2006
YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2006
YALSA Quick Picks Nominee, 2006

Gr 6 Up-Tally Youngblood lives in a futuristic society that acculturates its citizens to believe that they are ugly until age 16 when they'll undergo an operation that will change them into pleasure-seeking "pretties." Anticipating this happy transformation, Tally meets Shay, another female ugly, who shares her enjoyment of hoverboarding and risky pranks. But Shay also disdains the false values and programmed conformity of the society and urges Tally to defect with her to the Smoke, a distant settlement of simple-living conscientious objectors. Tally declines, yet when Shay is found missing by the authorities, Tally is coerced by the cruel Dr. Cable to find her and her compatriots-or remain forever "ugly." Tally's adventuresome spirit helps her locate Shay and the Smoke. It also attracts the eye of David, the aptly named youthful rebel leader to whose attentions Tally warms. However, she knows she is living a lie, for she is a spy who wears an eye-activated locator pendant that threatens to blow the rebels' cover. Ethical concerns will provide a good source of discussion as honesty, justice, and free will are all oppressed in this well-conceived dystopia. Characterization, which flirts so openly with the importance of teen self-concept, is strong, and although lengthy, the novel is highly readable with a convincing plot that incorporates futuristic technologies and a disturbing commentary on our current public policies. Fortunately, the cliff-hanger ending promises a sequel.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
--School Library Journal, March 2005, p. 221 (Starred Review)

Gr. 7-10. Fifteen-year-old Tally's eerily harmonious, post apocalyptic society gives extreme makeovers to teens on their sixteenth birthdays, supposedly conferring equivalent evolutionary advantages to all. When a top-secret agency threatens to leave Tally ugly forever unless she spies on runaway teens, she agrees to infiltrate the Smoke, a shadowy colony of refugees from the "tyranny of physical perfection." At first baffled and revolted by the rebels' choices, Tally eventually bonds with one of their leaders and begins to question the validity of institutionalized mutilation -- especially as it becomes clear that the government's surgeons may be doing more than cosmetic nipping and tucking. Although the narrative's brisk pace is more successful in scenes of hover-boarding action than in convincingly developing Tally's key relationships, teens will sink their teeth into the provocative questions about invasive technology, image-obsessed society, and the ethical quandaries of a mole-turned-ally. These elements, along with the obvious connections to reality programs such as "Miami Slice," will surely cause this ingenious series debut to cement Westerfeld's reputation for high-concept YA fiction that has wide appeal.
--Booklist, March 15, 2005, p. 1297 (Starred Review)

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2005 (Starred Review)

With a beginning and ending that pack hefty punches, this introduction to a dystopic future promises an exciting series. Tally is almost 16 and breathlessly eager: On her birthday, like everyone else, she'll undergo extensive surgery to become a Pretty. She's only known life as an Ugly (everyone's considered hideous before surgery), whereas after she "turns," she'll have the huge eyes, perfect skin, and new bone structure that biology and evolution have determined to be objectively beautiful. New Pretties party all day long. But when friend Shay escapes to join a possibly mythical band of outsiders avoiding surgery, Tally follows - not from choice but because the secret police force her. Tally inflicts betrayal after betrayal, which dominates the theme for the midsection; by the end, the nature of this dystopia is front and center and Tally - trying to set things right - takes a stunning leap of faith. Some heavy-handedness, but the awesome ending thrills with potential. In this launch title of a planned trilogy, teenager Tally Youngblood is living an unexamined life in a world unlike ours, hundreds of years from now. She's impatiently awaiting her birthday because in her town, Uglyville, everybody gets the same gift at age 16: cosmetic surgery which transforms them into gorgeous creatures. They also move into "party towers" in New Pretty Town. Tally's best friend has already made the transition and, motivated by her desire to see him, she sneaks into town. Her near-capture leads to a new best friend, Shay, who has the same birthday. On the eve of their operations, Shay reveals a plan to escape to a renegade settlement called "the Smoke." When Shay disappears, government agents blackmail Tally into leading them to the rebels. Once in the Smoke, Tally has a crisis of conscience when she learns the surgery is more sinister than she imagined. Teens will appreciate the gadgetry-including bungee jackets and hoverboards that work by magnetic levitation. But plausibility problems creep in, such as Tally leading a breakout of Smokeys from a high-tech compound while wearing handcuffs. As in his So Yesterday, Westerfeld introduces thought-provoking issues, but readers may lose track of the plot while sorting the many messages about how the "Rusties" nearly destroyed the planet. They may also feel cheated when, after 400-plus pages, the ending leaves loose ends to be tied up in the next installment, Pretties. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)
Publisher's Weekly, March 21, 2005, p.53

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Hoverboards. Tally and her friends use hoverboards for transportation. Why do you suppose Westerfeld devised this means of transportation for his teen characters?
  2. Technology. "Rusty" technology came to a disastrous end. Why? The technology of Tally's time has developed very differently. Is it better and safer, or is disaster still possible?
  3. Symetry. Tally and Shay play with computer programming that allows them to see themselves with an endless array of makeovers. Tally believes people just naturally see beauty in symmetry. Shay disagrees. Do you think it is natural or learned?
  4. You can experiment with facial symmetry. It can be done by manipulating photographs in a computer, much as Tally and Shay do it. It can also be done simply by sitting in front of a mirror and covering half your face.
  5. Consider how much we importance we place upon appearance. Is our society heading toward a future like the one Tally lives in?
  6. Uglies. Why do the uglies call each other insulting names like "squinty."
  7. Children in Tally's city seldom see parents and siblings and they are kept apart from those who are over sixteen. Why are they isolated?
  8. New Pretty Town. Tally's school chum, Peris, underwent his operation. When Tally found him in New Pretty Town three months later, how had he changed?
  9. What role do specials play in this city? Why do they need specials?
  10. Maddy's cure. Did Maddy make the right decision? Was she guided entirely by the Hippocratic oath?

Related Websites:
Scott Westerfeld's Homepage -

If you are wondering about the plausibility of the oil-eating bacteria that devastated the world of the rusties" you might want to see these pages at the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency -

Eva by Peter Dickinson, 1989
Feed by M. T. Anderson, 2002
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, 2000 (2001 RITBA Nominee)
The Giver by Lois Lowry, 1993
The Green Book by Jill Paton Walsh, 1982
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, 2002 (2004 RITBA Nominee and Winner)
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick, 2000 (2002 RITBA Nominee)
The Messenger by Lois Lowry, 2004
Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 1995
White Mountains
by John Christopher, 1967

Other Books by the Author:
Polymorph, 1997
Fine Prey, 1998
Evolution's Darling, 1999
The Killing of Worlds, 2003
The Risen Empire, 2003
The Secret Hour, 2004
So Yesterday, 2004 (2006 RITBA Nominee)
Peeps, 2005
Pretties, 2005 (sequel to Uglies)
Touching Darkness, 2005
Specials, 2006(sequel to Pretties)

About the Author:
Scott Westerfeld is a software designer. He has created educational software for Scholastic, McGraw-Hill and Encyclopedia Britannica. He is also a composer. His musical works for dance have been performed in theaters in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Berkeley and London. His books for teens include Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy. He divides his time between a home in New York, New York, and another in Sydney, Australia.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair