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For the baked food called "Uglies", see Fritter.
In philately, the term "uglies" is used to refer to the stamps of the Indian Feudatory States.
Uglies book.jpg
Uglies, the first book in the series
Author Scott Westerfeld
Cover artist Russell Gordon and Rorigo Corral
Media type Print (Paperback)
ISBN 0-689-86538-4
OCLC 57686394
LC Class PZ7.W5197 Ugl 2013

Uglies is a 2005 science fiction novel by Scott Westerfeld. It is set in a future post scarcity dystopian world in which everyone is turned "Pretty" by extreme cosmetic surgery upon reaching age 16. It tells the story of teenager Tally Youngblood who rebels against society's enforced conformity, after her newfound friends Shay and David show her the downsides to becoming a "Pretty". They show Tally how being a "Pretty" can change not only your look but your personality. Written for young adults, Uglies deals with adolescent themes of change, both emotional and physical. The book is the first installment in what was originally a trilogy, the Uglies series, which also includes the books Pretties, Specials, and Extras.

Under the surface, Uglies speaks of high-profile government conspiracies and the danger of trusting the omnipresent Big Brother. While the underlying story condemns war and all the side effects thereof, the true thrust of the story is that individual freedoms are far more important than the need for uniformity and the elimination of personal will.

The book shares many themes with the 1964 The Twilight Zone episode "Number 12 Looks Just Like You".[1] In a blog posting, the author of the books notes that he saw the episode in his childhood and had forgotten the details.[2]


[3] “Three hundred years from now, ”[4] the government provides for everything, including plastic surgery operations. Everyone on their sixteenth birthday receives the “pretty” operation which transforms them into the society's standard of beautiful.[5] After the operation, new "Pretties" cross the river that divides the city and lead a new life with no responsibilities or obligations. There are actually three operations; the first transforms people from “uglies” (unchanged teenagers), to “pretties”. Another one transforms “pretties” to “middle-pretties” (adults with a job), and the third transforms “middle-pretties" to "crumblies."

The term "Rusties" refers to those who lived before the historical apocalypse that ended the old society. The Rusties' cities have decayed after bacteria infected the world's petroleum, making it unstable. Because society was so dependent on oil, catastrophe ensued. Cars everywhere exploded, along with the oil fields nations had been fighting over. Supplies and food could no longer be transported, and society fell apart.[6]

Tally Youngblood is almost sixteen, only 3 more months until her birthday. Like every other "Ugly", she awaits the operation with great anticipation. Tally’s best friend, Peris, has already had the operation and, motivated by her desire to see him, Tally sneaks across the river to New Pretty Town, Peris's new home.[7] There she meets Shay, another ugly sneaking around New Pretty Town. They quickly become friends and Shay teaches Tally how to ride a hoverboard. Shay also mentions rebelling against the operation. At first, Tally ignores all the idea, but is forced to deal with it when Shay runs away a few days before their shared sixteenth birthday, leaving behind cryptic directions to her destination, a “renegade settlement” called the Smoke, where city runaways go to escape the operation.[7]

On the day of Tally’s operation, she is taken to Special Circumstances, a division that is likened to “gremlins” and “[blamed] when anything weird happens. ” [8] However, few people actually knows anything about them, and most even question their very existence. Dr. Cable is a woman who is described as “a cruel pretty”[9] with a razor voice,[10] sharp teeth,[9] and non-reflexive gray eyes.[11] She is the head of Special Circumstances. She gives Tally an ultimatum to either help them locate Shay and the Smoke, or she may never become a Pretty. After considering the alternatives, Tally decides to cooperate with Special Circumstances. Dr. Cable gives her a hoverboard and all the needed supplies to survive in the wild, along with a heart locket that contains a tracking device. Once activated, it will show the location of the Smoke to Special Circumstances. Following Shay's clues, Tally sets off to find her friend.

After less than a week of travel, Tally arrives at the Smoke, where she finds Shay, her friend David and an entire community of runaway uglies. She is reluctant to activate the pendant and it eventually becomes clear that David is in love with her. One night Tally and David share a kiss, David takes her to meet his parents, Maddy and Az, who are the original runaways from the city. They explain how the operation does more than “cosmetic nipping and tucking. ”[12] It also causes lesions in the brain to make the people placid, or “pretty-minded. ” Horrified at what her own city is doing, Tally decides to keep the Smoke secret and throws the locket into a fire, in an attempt to destroy the tracker. Instead the flames' heat causes the tracker to activate, giving away the Smoke’s location.

The following morning, Special Circumstances arrives at the camp and Tally makes an effort to escape, trying to help "Boss", the keeper of Rustie magazines, escape with the magazines. She does not succeed, however Boss is able to hide the magazines before being killed by Special Circumstances. After Tally is caught, she is taken to the rabbit pen, where other caught Smokies are kept, tied up. Croy, another fellow Smokie, jokes with her about her shoes, when Shay is caught. She is angry at Tally, saying that Tally was a spy and that she stole David before betraying the Smoke. Croy deflects Shay's accusations, while the Special Circumstances people are taking eye scans of all the captured Smokies, identifying which city they fled from. When they scan Tally's eyes, they take her to Dr. Cable, who explains how they found the Smoke. Dr. Cable thinks Tally never actually meant to destroy the pendant and that she purposefully activated it to allow Special Circumstances to locate the Smokies. After being ordered to retrieve the pendant from its hiding spot, Tally is able to make her escape using Croy's hoverboard. After a long and stressful chase, Tally manages to hide in a cave where they cannot track her heat signature. There she finds David also hiding. Together, they begin to plan a rescue.

After seeing the remains of Boss's library, Tally remembers Boss's attempt to escape with the magazines and finds the duffel bag of Rustie magazines. Not far away, Tally finds Boss's body. His fingernails, stained with blood, shows that he resisted and lost. Tally takes the magazines with her.

Tally and David go back to David's parents' house, where they find it burnt and find evidence that Special Circumstances took Maddy and Az. David leads Tally to a secret stash of survival equipment, "by Smokey standards, an absolute fortune in survival equipment".[13] There they find everything they ever need, and load them onto the four hoverboards stashed there.

Everyone from the Smoke has been taken by Special Circumstances and are being prepped for the operation forcing them to become pretties. As Tally and David travel back to the city to free their friends, they fall in love. Arriving at the Special Circumstances complex, they discover that Shay has already been “turned” and is now a pretty.[14] After meeting Dr. Cable, David knocks her out and takes her work tablet, which contains all the necessary information to reverse the brain lesions created by the pretty operation. Tally and David then free all the Smokies held in the complex. As they escape the complex, though, Maddy has to tell David that his father, Az, is dead.

Once everyone is safe, Maddy begins working on a cure using Dr. Cable’s tablet and materials “brought by city uglies”.[15] She figures out a cure and offers it to Shay, who refuses, not wanting to become a “vegetable.”[16] Since Tally feels responsible for her betrayal, she decides to become a pretty and take the cure as a “willing subject”.[17] To convince David to let her go back to the city, she tells him about her involvement with Special Circumstances and searching for the Smoke to betray them. While David is absorbing what Tally just admitted, Maddy advises Tally to go back with Shay before she changes her mind. Once there, Tally announces to a middle pretty,“I’m Tally Youngblood. Make me pretty, ” the final phrase of the novel.[18]



Tally Youngblood is the main character of the story. Her Ugly nickname is Squint. However, she would be the one forced to betray the Smoke and Shay. As the story progresses, she begins to stray more and more from the rules of her city, and her assignment. She falls in love with David at the Smoke. Together, Tally and David rescue the Smokies after the Smoke was captured by Special Circumstances, and in the end she gives herself up to be pretty.


David, the son of the founders of the Smoke, falls in love with Tally. Originally he liked Shay, but after Shay brought Tally to the runaway camp called the Smoke, his love for Shay was forgotten, as he found a new interest in Tally. David helps to change Tally’s feeling towards her city. He wears hand sewn clothing, made from animal skins, and has a lot of survival skills which he passes on to Tally.

Maddy is David’s mother. She tells Tally about the brain lesions caused by the pretty surgery, and later in the book develops a cure for the lesions.

Az is David’s father, and dies in an operation later in the story. He also helps to tell Tally about the brain lesions the pretty surgery causes.

Croy is another Smokey. He was originally suspicious of her, but he grew to trust her.


Dr. Cable is the head of Special Circumstances, and the one who denies Tally the operation until she finds Shay. She is the one who sends Specials to destroy the Smoke. She is described to have an aquiline nose, non-reflective gray eyes, a razor-like voice, and sharp teeth.


Peris, Tally’s best friend, was already pretty at the beginning of the book. He helps Tally decide to betray Shay. His ugly nickname was Nose.

Ellie Youngblood is Tally’s pretty mother who helps Tally to decide to turn in Shay. She is a middle pretty.

Sol Youngblood is Tally's pretty father who helps Tally to decide to turn in Shay. He is a middle pretty.

Zane, Is the leader of the Crims, he had once known Croy. Croy planned to runaway but Zane didn't want to go with them and regrets his action. He is eager to help Tally when she tries to find the object Croy has hidden for her. He help her along the way and keeps her "bubbly" (focused/clear-minded) Shay, is Tally's new best friend who tells her about smoke. After she leaves Tally must follow directions from her to smoke. Where Tally exposes it to the Specials. After being captured Shay is made pretty in the end.

Major themes[edit]


According to critics Ugly, contains themes of identity, particularly in the cases of teenagers. Phillip Gough said the government of Tally’s city, which controls what happens within the operation, “removes responsibility for identity, ” creating sameness and uniformity.[19] By placing heavy emphasis on the role of individualism, the novel shows the importance of teen’s self-concept, according to Gough.[19] Because identity is formed by “displacement, ” and all citizens are carefully shelter , there is no chance for them to branch out into independence.[19] “Physical identity is determined by committees, ” noted Gough in his essay discussing Westerfeld’s novel.[19] Due to the lack of choice, all “markers of physical identity” are destroyed by their government.[19]


Kristi N. Scott and M. Heather Dragoo note in their collaborative essay on Uglies, that another recurring theme in the “image-obsessed society, ”was beauty, and its recurring relationship with individuality.[12][20] Gough agreed, commenting that “when everyone is equal, beauty loses its meaning”.[19] As depicted in his essay, beauty went hand in hand with identity. Uglies were taught to think of their bodies and faces as “temporary, ” something that would be replaced later with cosmetic surgery.[19] A strong line was drawn to connect features with personality, and one critic stated that they developed “ugly” and “pretty” personalities with each stage of their operations.[19]

Dystopian society

A “utopia resting on ruthless suppression of individual freedom” was Amanda Craig of The Times’s description of Tally’s city.[21] Many critics identified the trend of a controlling government in the novel, with descriptions akin to Craig’s from many. People in the protagonist’s world are “programmed and designed by the Pretty committee, ” with no say-so in their operation, and identity is placed firmly “in the hands of the state”.[19] In the essay The Baroque Body: A Social Commentary on the Role of Body Modification in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy, Dragoo and Scott pointed out how segregated the city was, with pretties, uglies, middlies, and crumblies neatly divided into different sections.[20] Many reviewers commented on the way in which the city manipulated its inhabitants, including the supposedly rebellious uglies, who were nothing more than “docile bodies”.[19]


Various critics also found a theme of humanity within Uglies. Phillip Gough commented heavily on how pretties and specials, those who worked for Special Circumstances, were “posthuman” because of their operations.[19] Others, such as Scott and Dragoo, argued against it, claiming “the human body provides an artistic and political canvas for intentional manipulation, ” and that this physical transformation can be an “outlet for humanity”.[20] The novel Uglies seems to take no definite stance on it, though clearer points are shown in Pretties and Specials, the books after Uglies in the trilogy.


In an interview with Scott Westerfeld, Chicklish, a teen fiction site, asked him how he came up with the idea of Uglies. He responded by saying "the inspiration came from a friend whose dentist asked him to consider getting cosmetic surgery." [22] Before Westerfeld even started to write novels, he was the son of a computer programmer for Univac. And this job helped him because he grew up familiar with the cutting edge of 1960s technology. Amanda Craig, a reviewer for children's books, said that "it is his prescient perception of how such inventions will lead to absolute loss of privacy which has elicited as much fan-mail as the issue of how looks dominate our lives." [23]


The novel has received mostly positive reviews. The Baroque Body praised the novel as having “creative slang, unique technical gadgets, and defining characteristics of personhood.”[20] Cory Doctorow complimented its “perfect parables of adolescent life, ” and stated that it is “fine science fiction for youth.[24] Jennifer Mattson claimed it to be “ingenious. ”[12] Reed Business Information praised the “convincing plot” and noted that it is “highly readable”[25]

However, Publishers Weekly commented that Tally was a “rather passive protagonist” [26] The United Kingdom Times complained that “Tally herself is a bit too vague as a character. ”[21] Critic Jennifer Mattson commented on the brisk pace of the novel as being “bad for convincing relationships. ”[12]

The novel Uglies has also sparked controversy over the use of plastic surgery to improve one's looks. The author said he has “ received many letters from girls who have decided against having surgery since reading Uglies, ” and others, sparked by Uglies, have started to ponder the ethics of changing your body’s appearance.[4] Scott Westerfeld has theorized that “having extreme cosmetic surgery will be like buying a $1,000 Gucci bag, an indication that you are a member of the privileged class. "[4] Critics echo his opinion. However, Scott Westerfeld has also stated he “wouldn’t hesitate [to use plastic surgery] if he had a kid with port-wine stain. We have all been altering our appearances ever since clothing was invented. ”[4] Other critics have also stated that while altering one's appearance with plastic surgery can be ethically debatable, the benefits of it to people who are in need for it are tremendous.[27]

There is also some moderate debate sparked by Uglies over the issue of monitoring people. The state has started to track teens through their cell phones and on occasion through dental implants.[4] Scott Westerfeld feels that this will “result in a total loss of privacy” (Future Imperfect). However, others feel that this technology is necessary to properly supervise people.[4]

Film adaption[edit]

20th Century Fox and producer John Davis (Eragon) bought the film rights to the novel.[28] Davis and his co-producer wife Jordan were "plugged into the tale by their daughter, who read the book in school". The movie was originally scheduled to be released in the year 2011, according to the Internet Movie Database, but the release date has been pushed back.

After supposedly being put to film in 2011 and then canceled, the movie Uglies is once again in the works as of July 3, 2013. It was mentioned that Scott Westerfeld planned on meeting representatives for the movie 3 weeks from the confirmation date.

Book adaptions[edit]

Steven Cummings illustrated Uglies in a manga-style graphic novel written by Westerfeld and Devin K. Grayson called Shay's Story which tells the story from Shay's perspective. It was published in a black-and-white 5¾ x 8¼ inches format by Del Rey Manga in 2012. There has also been an audio recording made of the book (published in 2006), available on both CD and cassette.[26][29]

Publication history[edit]

The novel Uglies was first published in 2006, and was re-released in 2011 with a new cover.[30] It is the first part of a trilogy, with the sequels being Pretties, and Specials, and with another add-on book Extras [30] . The trilogy was a hot seller, so much so that it was featured on the New York Times bestseller list for a significant amount of time.[4]


Westerfeld, Scott (2005). Uglies. Uglies Trilogy one (two ed.). New York: Simon Pulse. p. 406. ISBN 978-1-4424-1981-0. 


  1. ^ "Why haven't I read these books?". The Book Smugglers. 6 August 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Westerfeld, Scott (3 January 2008). "Number 12 Looks Suspiciously Familiar". Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Craig, Amanda (11 November 2011). "Future Imperfect". The Times (United Kingdom). p. 15. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  5. ^ Westerfeld, p. 83
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Robinson, Kimberly Downing (Fall 2012). "Book Review". Interdisciplinary Humanities 27 (2): 151–154. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Westerfeld, p. 120
  9. ^ a b Westerfeld, p. 191
  10. ^ Westerfeld, p. 105
  11. ^ Westerfeld p. 191
  12. ^ a b c d "Uglies". Publishers Weekly (New York, New York) 252 (12): 53. 21 March 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Westerfeld, p. 338
  14. ^ Westerfeld, p. 364
  15. ^ Westerfeld, p. 388
  16. ^ Westerfeld, p. 397
  17. ^ Westerfeld, p. 395
  18. ^ Westerfeld, p. 406
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gough, Philip. ""Who am I? Who was I?": The Posthuman and Identity Formation in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy". Thesis Essay (Roehampton University (School)): 10. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c d Scott, Kristi; M. Heather Dragoo. "The Baroque Body: A Social Commentary on the Role of Body Modification in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Trilogy". Thesis Essay. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  21. ^ a b McKinley, Robin (2006-01-21). "Pretty faces, hideous truths". The United Kingdom Times (The United Kingdom). p. 17. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  22. ^ "Interview: Scott Westerfeld". Chicklish. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Craig, Amanda. "Scott Westerfeld interview: future imperfect". Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  24. ^ Doctorow, Corey (January 1, 2006). "Uglies: young adult sf that perfectly captures adolescent anxiety". Boing Boing. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  25. ^ Hunter, Susan W; Jones, Trevelyn E Toth, Luann Charnizon, Marlene Grabarek, Daryl Raben, Dale. "WESTERFELD: Scott. Uglies.". School Library Journal (Reed Business Information / Reviews) 51 (3): 1. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  26. ^ a b Grayson, Devlin (5 March 2012). "Uglies Shays Story". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 14 March 2012. (registration required (help)). 
  27. ^ Laferla, Ruth; Natasha Singer (December 15, 2005). "The Face of The Future". Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  28. ^ Fleming, Micheal (2006-06-26). "Sitting Pretty". Daily Variety (gotham). Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  29. ^ Parravano, Martha V. "Scott Westerfeld Uglies". Horn Book Magazine (Media Source, Inc.) 83 (1): 91–91. ISSN 0018-5078. Retrieved March 14, 2012. 
  30. ^ a b Westerfeld Publication Page

External links[edit]