Book of the Week - Uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

I love Science Fiction. Let's just put that out there from the beginning. As a kid I was hooked after reading Away is a Strange Place to Be by H.M. Hoover, a wonderful book about two kids kidnapped and forced into slave labor on a space station. I devoured sci-fi book after sci-fi, leaving young adult books far behind when I ran out of them. I turned to Herbert, Heinlein, Ben Bova, Timothy Zahn, and C.J. Cherryh. I say this to tell you that there is a considerable difference between young adult and adult sci-fi, even the ones with children characters likeEnder's Game, which was originally meant for adults is completely different.

How you ask? Simply this. Adults books don't preach.

Adult books just tell a good story. And epic story but a story nonetheless. Yes, there are books like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, perhaps even I, Robot could be included in that preachy mode of storytelling, but one thing is for sure, I never felt like the author was trying to tell me how ridiculous something was. There is a disturbing likeness to the young adult sci-fi I have read recently. This is the trend I have noticed:

An author finds something that bothers them about our society. (usually American society) These social ills can be anything from not living green (enough), obsession with beauty, safety, science, violence, terrorism, etc. Then they take it to the extreme.

In Uglies, Westerfeld creates a society in which everyone at the age of sixteen turns Pretty. All your life you are told how ugly you are and how one day, just like everyone else, you will become beautiful and never have to worry about anything again. No one will be too fat or too skinny. Frizzy hair will be a thing of the past. Everyone equal. Tally Youngblood can't wait to turn sixteen, but then she meets Shay, another ugly, who disdains the falseness of their society and runs away. Tally doesn't go, but is soon blackmailed by the authorities into finding the Uglies camp, if she helps they will make her pretty. But reality makes Tally wonder if the truth she has been told all her life is really a lie.

On the whole, the book is written well. It is action packed with rich characters and an interesting plot. But I just can't seem to get over the preachiness of it. Believe me, it was clear what the author was getting at from the very beginning. It just screamed, "Hey, isn't it terrible how obsessed we are with beauty? Look what could happen if we don't stop." Sometimes adult books can have moments of preachiness, but personally I think the best stories are the ones that move away from the preachiness to focus on story.

But Uglies isn't the only one doing it. The Roar by Emma Clayton, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Feed by M.T. Anderson, Rash by Pete Hautman, Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Shade's Children by Garth Nix, Unwind by Neal Shusterman. This is not to say these novels are badly written, it is just that the "message" was way to much for this blogger's tastes. Yes, adults books do it too, but I never felt like Isamov or Bova was trying to say, "Look what happens when we get obsessed with--well you fill in the blank."


Anonymous said...

I read it at the behest of my students and didn't care for it. Why? Because it was camp. I don't think the book was written well and the action came a little too fast (I mean, how quickly did they get to her friend?).

I just couldn't stomach the book as another in the long list of dystopian novels. The Twilight Zone handled the story much better as a half hour episode than the start of a four-book series. As you said, the story should stand alone. Westerfeld didn't put enough into the characterization of Tally and Shay to make me care one or the other what became of them. It all happened a little too quick...