The early summer sky was the colour of cat vomit

by Scott Westerfeld

This is the first part of a sci-fi young-adult trilogy – not my usual fare, but having sampled and quite liked The Hunger Games earlier this year, when my book club picked this title I figured it couldn’t hurt. It got a similar reaction from me: quick easy read, engaging, characters I cared about the fates of, but occasionally clunky and/or predictable.

The Uglies of the title are all the people born in the City from the age of 10 (I think) to 15, between being a Littlie (i.e. a child) and a Pretty. On their 16th birthday, everyone has the operation – a kind of extreme plastic surgery with the aim of making everyone look, while not identical, an identical degree of beautiful. (As the operation is so extreme I was a little bothered at the lack of detail about how it could possibly be done in a single day and with zero recovery time, but I guess I can let that go.) New Pretties live a life of drinking and partying, indulging in clothes and other superficial delights for a few years until they choose whether they want to return to studying.

“The early summer sky was the colour of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavoured cat food for a while, to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold”

This is the life that Tally is dreaming of when we meet her. Just months away from turning 16, she is living in an Ugly dormitory gazing longingly across the river at New Pretty Town. As one of the youngest in her school year, she is the last of her friends to leave and is missing them, particularly her best friend Peris. But then one night she meets Shay, who shares her birthday and her taste for sneaking out of the dorm at night. Shay, however, does not want to become Pretty – she hints that there is a darker side to the city’s whole set-up.

It’s not a bad concept, and the history of how the world as we know it led it to the Pretties is gradually revealed and fairly believable. The inevitable romantic storyline was a little cheesy for my taste and the quality of writing varies a bit. I also struggled a little with Tally as we first meet her – totally bought into the Pretty ideal, convinced that she is truly ugly and that the best possible future is a frivolous lifestyle I find devoid of attraction.

Unlike The Hunger Games I have no interest in reading the rest of this trilogy. But that doesn’t mean I thought it a bad book, by any means. And while I was feeling tired and in need of an easy read, this was just the ticket.

Published 2006 by Simon and Schuster.

Source: Borrowed from a friend.