I just finished Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, I know I know- I’m only eight years late! In my defense, when I first read the premise, a futuristic/dystopian world where everybody is “Ugly” until they reach 16 and get surgically transformed into the attractive “Pretties”- I did the internal eye-roll and thought I’d rather not. Then it was picked for my book club this month and the world that I thought sounded really cliché, with super campy descriptives like, Uglyville, Pretties, New Pretty Town and so on, became an interesting idea. And hey, it’s got a movie deal, so why not?
The idea of this dystopia is that so many of our current world problems are related to physical appearance; that people kill or enslave others based on the color of their skin; that prettier people get better jobs, which creates a loosely based cast systems; that some people starve themselves to be skinny while others eat themselves into sickness, all because they don’t feel pretty; and that ultimately, it causes division, war and so on. So in this post-apocalyptic world, they found solution in making everyone “pretty” or rather, look the same. So you see, this story had some promise- it has a unique premise among the vast options of dystopian worlds out there. It also could have potentially directed attention to some very real social issues, which obviously plague our society. Only Westerfeld falls short of addressing any of these, which is sad.
With that in mind, I should add that this is not a YA book. Yes, the main character is a teenager, and most of the other stars are as well, but in every other way this reads exactly like an MG novel, going about the same pace as the first Harry Potter books, only without the depth or intricacy. That’s the only explanation I can offer as to why Westerfeld created the perfect world to make the argument that looks aren’t everything… but then didn’t. Instead we get cookie cutter action, little character development and the lingering question of whether or not Westerfeld really thinks that making people “pretty” is all that terrible of an idea. I guess we can assume that this is his argument anyway, especially as we learn that those who undergo surgery also receive mind alterations that make them complacent, agreeable people, like they’ve all over-dosed on Zanex. In the end we’re left with a possible cure and the blatant fact that most people prefer a life of simplicity, beauty, parties and happiness. Who can really blame them?
I will say that there is a reason that this series is an international bestseller. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s different. And most of all, it doesn’t feel like the other dystopian books out there (in other words, it’s not a romance novel with a little dystopia sprinkled on top). If nothing else, it would be a good pool-side/beach read and hey, it’s got a movie deal in the works. That means even if you’re eight years late reading this with me, at least you’ll be ahead of all those who wait to jump on the band-wagon just because some hot celeb took the part!
On the movie note- while the story definitely left me wanting, I actually think it could translate into a really good film! I’d certainly go see it anyway. I’m imagining all the Pretties actually look a little bit like beautiful aliens. Ya know, exotic but still totally weird because, well, they’re aliens. There’s also some pretty cool thrills in the book that I’d love seeing through big-screen special effects (umm, the hoverboard roller coaster and bungee-jacket jumps, please). Unfortunately, getting this story from page to screen has been a bit of a mess. The first intensions to adapt this multi-million dollar trilogy began in 2006, but little happened over the following years and 20th Century Fox, who first owned the rights, released them. Then, in the summer of 2011, Westerfeld announced that producer John Davis and the founders of Lola Visual Effects will team up to finance, develop and produce an adaptation of all three books. So far the team includes producers John Davis (I, Robot), Jordan Davis, Colin and Greg Strause, via their Hydraulx Entertainment banner. They also have screenwriter, Jacob Forman, on board to pen the script.
It’s worth noting that Westerfeld has bucket-loads of Uglies fans out there that are just dying to see this film, and they all seem to be most excited about one fact: that Lola is involved. Lola is the same company behind the facial special effects in both Benjamin Button and Captain America, which could make this movie super awesome! I mean, I really hope that this project comes to life just so I can see what Lola makes of all this Pretties and Uglies business! Sadly, this project is still a couple of years away from happening, if ever. It’s been two years since any news, whatsoever, has been released regarding the film (trust me I’ve checked), which doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all other then, there just simply hasn’t been any news. The movie-making business is a strange and slow world, but no news is not necessarily bad news (see, Percy Jackson; Sea of Monsters, The Maze Runner, Vampire Academy, If I Stay, just to name a few). Anyway, what we do know is that this film is still several years away from happening if they decide to move forward (after it gets the green-light, then they’ll have to find a director, a casting director- many other things you don’t care about-, casting calls, filming, editing and so on). So keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted as soon as any news breaks (in the meantime, check out my list of 60+ other adaptations in the works!). And check out this awesome new official ‘book’ trailer, that Westerfeld just released a few days ago!
And finally–for those of you who won’t read the book but want to know what the story is about in a nutshell, I’ve spelled it out below (and even if you want to read the book, this really probably won’t ruin anything for you anyway). I think you’ll enjoy my wrap-up.
Tally is weeks away from turning 16 and impatiently counting the days until she becomes one of the Pretties. Her best friend Peris, (he is also her crush, best we can tell) has already turned and she hasn’t heard from him once since. He had promised to write but didn’t. When she can’t stand the loneliness anymore (umm, like page 2 maybe), she decides to break into New Pretty Town to find him and when she does, he’s definitely gorgeous (she almost doesn’t recognize him) but somehow he’s also very different. He’s eager for her to leave, seemingly embarrassed of her and it was, well- award. Anyway, during her escape she runs into another Ugly who had also broken into the city that night. This is Shay, who during the next few weeks becomes her new best friend. From here, she and Shay are inseparable- they have many debates where Tally preaches about the importance of becoming a Pretty and Shay tells Tally all about a place where nobody has to change, The Smoke. Shay also teaches Tally how to ride a hoverboard (just think of a flying skateboard) and there’s many, many pages dedicated to these lessons, that I’ll just go ahead and admit, I skimmed (…skipped). They have a fight about being pretty and being ugly (Shay: “I think you’re pretty Tally”. Tally: “Don’t be stupid! We’re both hideous”- no wonder they had it out!). They make up but then Shay runs away to avoid having the surgery, while Tally goes to get hers. Yet when it’s time for her to go under the knife she meets the evil secret police of their world instead, who give her the option to either – A, go and find Shay and lead them to all of the other rebels (using a super undetectable GPS tracker necklace) or -B, stay ugly forever (you’ll learn all this just from reading the back of the book, just FYI).
I would like to say that there was some sort of legitimate manipulation that went on here- I mean they did tell Tally that Shay might be in danger, but the truth is, Tally just wanted to become a Pretty. So she sets off on a never-ending journey to find Shay, based on some obscure clues that Shay had written in a note/poem (this trip is supposedly like 500 miles long, up the U.S West Coast, all the way into Canada… brrrr). Of course, once she gets there she has a crisis of conscious- I.E. she meets a boy and is crushing on him after a whole 5 seconds. Oh, and he just happens to be the same boy that Shay is in love with. Cat fight ensues. So Tally does the obvious thing- she makes out with the boy and in a moment of passion, throws her tracker necklace into a fire, hoping to destroy it. Well of course it didn’t… it actually triggers the locater, letting the bad guys know exactly where they are. She and said boy are the only ones to escape, sending them on a 20+ day journey alone, on a rescue mission for their friends. There’s some kissing, some fighting and a little bit of crying before the most unbelievable rescue/infiltration/break-out/prison escape takes place. They start to rebuild their society; all the while trying to find a cure for, at least the brain changing stuff (I mean c’mon, being Pretty isn’t all that bad… I guess?). They find a cure, or so they think, but need a patient to test it on. So in these final moments, Tally decides to self-mutilate and confess that the whole thing had been her fault from the get-go (ahem, ahem- this had me screaming several times throughout the book- TELL THEM NOW! Okay NOW ALREADY! You’re going to regret this….). But of course it happens way later than it should have (umm, I mean you guys were alone together for DAYS! Don’t you think you might want to bring this up?!). So, obviously, she decides to turn herself in to the authorities, become “Pretty” so that she can be the first test subject. [I can go ahead and tell you now, without even reading the description of the next book, “Pretties”, that I’m certain she’ll stay Pretty, living in New Pretty Town, for the majority of it and that we’ll probably be introduced to some ridiculous love-triangle before all hell breaks loose]. I mean, as entertaining and exciting as this story was, there isn’t a single thing that happens that you can’t really predict. So that’s it in a nutshell! Hope you enjoy =)