On my way home from work one recent Friday night, I was listening to Public Radio's To The Best Of Our Knowledge. I like the show and it airs here on Friday nights from 8 - 10 PM. Each hour or two they take a topic and through interviews and stories explore that wide topic from different angles. This particular Friday night the topic in question was Apocalyptic Fiction. Note that the topic isn't always fiction, but writing often comes into play when exploring the theme. This night, however, it was fiction. I heard an interview with a popular young adult author by the name of Scott Westerfeld. He has written several best sellers, but the one that was most focused on was a trilogy that begins with the book, Uglies. The book tells the tale of a world somewhat in our future that exists after some apocalyptic event. Humans survived, gathered in cities, and avoid nature. One of the conclusions of the survivors is that the Rusties (the former human population that died which is, basically, us....Rusties because of our old technologies) faced this terrible tragedy because of difference and the jealousy attached to it. So, in this future world one of the things that they have done is to provide cosmetic surgery to everyone at certain stages of their lives. For instance, the first surgery is at age 16. Everyone gets their skin scraped, bones carved, fat - if any - sucked out, and so on to the point that everyone looks basically the same. And those people who reach that stage are called Pretties. The Uglies are the teens before that stage and then the really young children are called the Littlies. Older Pretties are called either Middle Pretties or Crumblies and they have their own surgeries as well. Since everyone achieves a level of beauty (based on scientific means devised by doctors and scientists on the Pretty committee) a level of jealousy is removed. Also, everyone has food, clothes, drink, housing, medical care, and so on provided to them so that level of jealousy is removed as well. People live and peaceful existence.
The story follows 2 girls as it's central characters - Tally and Shay. Both girls are approaching their 16th birthday. Both are intelligent, precocious, and daring girls. They were born on the same day and become friends when they meet. They do the typical things that uglies do, get into mischief, discuss their upcoming operations, etc. Then one day Shay tells Tally that she isn't going to go through with the operation. Shay says that she's going to meet up with the Smokies who tend to do things the old fashioned way, including aging. Shay's up for the adventure, but Tally isn't sure. Shay leaves Tally a map in the form of a poem where she can find Shay if Tally changes her mind. Thus begins the adventure.
Clearly the author is exploring several issues. The girls are good strong characters. The body issues of teens is discussed as well as the concept of beauty. In the radio program the author expressed surprise at how many teen girls have told him that they were thinking of getting cosmetic surgery, but changed their minds after thinking about what he wrote in this novel. Whole schools have had their students - boys and girls...the boys get cosmetic surgery, too - read the book and meet the author. As noted, this was the first part of a trilogy. The whole thing can be had in a box set edition on Amazon. Westerfeld's latest book takes place in the same world years after this trilogy during which the latest craze is your popularity ranking (much like a MySpace or Facebook ranking) during which everyone is trying to raise their ranking because that shows how special you are to the world. The author is a hit because while his fiction is set in the future it very much touches aspects of our own world and deals with them in familiar ways.
Intrigued, I came home and told the co-signer about the author, the interview, and the book. I did a little more research on him on the web. co-signer decided to take it upon herself to reserve a copy of Uglies from the library. I must say that I was surprised at it's length - 425 pages. Still, in a time when Harry Potter books top 800 pages I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. It's a far cry, however, from those 200 page books I read as a teen. I just finished the book today. It's an easy read and a quick one. I'd recommend it to anyone of any age. The dialog is geared towards it's target audience which is to say that it's not difficult in the least. And the book is mostly dialog. The narrative passages are not filled with flourishes or are overly descriptive. But it's a cracking good yarn with enough foreshadowing and twists to keep the reader captivated and the message about the difference between shallowness and beauty is a good one for young people.
I've just reserved a copy of the next book in the trilogy, Pretties, from the library. Being 17th in line for that hold doesn't surprise me and it increases the anticipation I have for the next portion of the tale.
PS - All of the above titles are available online at Powell's as well, but they are having server problems right now and I cannot link to their products. Even so, support your local independent bookstore or library if you can.
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