“We're not freaks…we're normal.
We may not be gorgeous, but at least we're not hyped-up Barbie dolls.”
– Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
It’s brainwashing, plain and simple.
Every time we turn on the television, traverse the Internet, or just walk through a mall, the very society in which we live in is whispering in our ears how imperfect, ugly, and hopelessly inadequate we are. According to the myriad of advertisements and trending news articles – like this from earlier today: “Model Valeria Lukyanova turns herself into real life Barbie doll!” – our existential and spiritual knowledge, depth of character, and capacity to love really mean nothing. It’s all about the superficial – our weight, the size or shape of a genetically predetermined body part, the whiteness of our teeth, how obsessively we conform to fashion trends, our overall sex appeal…
That’s why I believe Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies saga (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras) – which is set in dystopic future where every single person, when they reach adulthood, goes under the knife and returns to society aesthetically perfect – is arguably the most important young adult series on the shelves. The themes explored in these novels are critically significant to today’s young people – namely body image and the dangers of blind conformity.
Westerfeld describes the series on his website:
Although the series is over (Extras was released back in 2007), Westerfeld – along with writer Devin Grayson and illustrator Steven Cummings – has breathed new life into the storyline by revisiting it through a series of graphic novels that are from the perspective of Shay (aka Skinny), a girl who is nearing her 16th birthday and doesn’t want to undergo the surgery that will make her, according to the Committee for Morphological Standards, pretty.
“Let them grind and shape your bones into the right shapes…float in pretty chemical dreams while they peel off your face and rub your skin raw… smile with your new plastic cheekbones and blinding white teeth, secure in the knowledge that you look pretty much just like everyone else… just like the Pretty Committee thinks you should.”
The first graphic novel Uglies: Shay’s Story, which was released earlier this year in March, was fantastic, and I have recommended it to literally hundreds of young readers and parents.
But although Shay’s memories have been largely erased, she finds a way to cut through the "bubbly" fog of vacuity and get to the painful and dangerous – and ultimately breathtaking – Reality of things...
Growing up in today’s world where young individuals are being bombarded with images and messages concerning unnatural body image – Botox, dermal fillers, breast implants, liposuction, abdominal etching, hair transplants, steroid abuse, etc. – is it any wonder that so many young adults (and adults) are filled with self-doubt and self-hate?
The only way to stop this mindset is to stop buying into the insanity. I have two young daughters and I think one of the most important messages I can ever convey to them is exactly what Westerfeld is saying in this series – always embrace and cherish your individuality. If anyone judges you on something as inconsequential as skin color or weight or hairstyle or brand of clothes you wear, they’re obviously not worth your time.
Uglies of the world unite!
p.s. HEY HOLLYWOOD! When are you going to make these novels into movies???
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.