For awhile now I have been reviewing series as a whole, rather than as separate books, at least, I do if the whole series has been published already. I find that for a lot of teen and children's series, reviewing them individually gets seriously repetitive and annoying. So I was waiting to review Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series until I finished Extras. But now that I'm reading Extras, I'm realizing that it is more of a companion novel, and not so much part of the series. I would like to review it separately, so I might as well go ahead and review the rest of the books, since I finished Specials a few weeks ago.
The first time I saw Uglies, I was hooked by the cover. After reading the back cover, I was intrigued, but I could also see how such a book could be absolutely terrible. So I never bothered reading any of them until they were on a list for a class I took on teen materials over the summer. I really enjoyed all three books, and as they are easy to read, I zipped through each one.
The main character of all three books is Tally Youngblood. Uglies begins when she is fifteen, just waiting for her sixteenth birthday, when she will be made Pretty. In this alternate future, everyone undergoes the surgery at sixteen that makes them perfectly beautiful, making everyone theoretically equal. It is the belief of the controllers of this society that if everyone looks the same, and has the same opportunities, there will be no strife. But there are other, hidden controls put on the population that keeps them in line. Tally hates being an Ugly, and she doesn't even have any friends who are Uglies anymore, as she has a later birthday than all of them. When she meets Shay, another soon-to-be sixteen-year-old, she latches on to her like a lifeline. Shay tells her about David, someone who lives in the Wild outside of the city. This seems incomprehensible to Tally, and she thinks that Shay is insane for wanting to leave the promise of becoming Pretty. When Shay makes her escape, the city controllers force Tally to make a choice: betray her friend by following her, or never become Pretty.
From there Tally simply seems to be forced into one crappy situation after another. In all three books she never seems to have much control over her decisions, and is constantly forced to betray someone. But after learning the truth about the world that she lives in in Uglies, she knows that she can do the right thing, even though she constantly has someone mucking around in her brain and changing her body with surgery without her permission.
The world that Westerfeld creates is really interesting. He does a decent job of explaining how such a world could actually function, without going into too much detail. My favorite part of the series is the fact that it brings up the issue of control, and what it means to be under control. Is it better to live in a totally controlled society, but one with complete peace? Who gets to decide what constitutes beauty, or what makes something fun? Is it right to buck a government who is lying to its people, even though the truth might be more frightening than the lie? These are the questions Tally faces, and I like the theme of insurrection and government take-down. The issue of being Pretty is not addressed as cleanly as I would have liked. The government in the books makes the case for biology - Pretties are created the way they are because that is what our biology says is attractive. The issue of what makes someone beautiful is addressed peripherally; taken further, this could have been a very interesting concept.
Overall, I have to say I did enjoy the series, and I do love the theme of questioning authority and the accepted way-things-are. These are good books for teens who are looking for a fun read that also has something a little bit deeper (but not too deep). I'm looking forward to finishing Extras, and comparing it to the rest.