Ever since I read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins I’ve been into dystopian novels in a big way, and working in a library is the best place to be to find recommendations for books.
I often get chatting to customers who return books and ask what they thought of them, so I knew there was something special about Uglies by Scott Westerfeld when it was returned by a borrower at Portslade Library. When asked if she liked the book she replied only with a deep intake of breath, a small shake of the head and three words: “Just read it.”
I went into the book entirely on trust that someone who uses a library knows what they’re talking about when it comes to books. The basic premise sounded fascinating to me: a world destroyed by fuel-eating bacteria has forced a new age of civilisation to start, with entirely new rules. Young teens are known as Uglies until the age of 16, when they are turned into Pretties by way of a surgical procedure. This heavy-duty surgery means that everyone looks mainly the same afterwards, but even more disturbingly they all seem to have the same interests as well.
Tally, our protagonist, is an Ugly who has dreamed of being a Pretty all her life, but when she meets Shay and is taken outside the city borders, she hears of people who escape the operation and stay Ugly all their lives. Something about ‘being true to themselves’. Nothing Tally has ever really given much thought to, but with her 16th birthday fast approaching and Shay wanting to run away from the operation, Tally has some tough decisions to make.
I have always been a big champion of young adult fiction and even now that I am slightly past the recommended reading age (sob!) they are still my main reading material. Complicated ideas can be communicated in a simple and straightforward way, and I am forever searching for a way to replicate the way authors such as John Green and David Levithan tell a deeply enthralling story that incorporates issues like mental health and social outcasts without being about mental health or social outcasts. Uglies approaches issues like self-worth and inner beauty in a way that doesn’t explicitly say ‘inner beauty is the most important thing’ but still manages to put across that message. Westerfeld talks around the issues he brings up, and so instead of being instructed how to think, the reader is instead given examples of people who follow different paths and left to make their own mind up.
The book lingered in my mind for weeks afterwards, and I have recommended it countless times. There are four in the series and we have them all in the libraries, you can reserve them online and pick them up at your local library.
Elena – Library Officer
Click here for a list of the Scott Westerfeld works, including the Uglies quartet, available on the library catalogue.