Tally can't wait the three months until she's sixteen and her surgery transforms her into a pretty. She is sooooo sick of being an ugly. In the meantime, she daringly travels from her dorm in Uglyville to New Pretty Town in order to see her best friend, Peris. When she finds him, newly pretty Peris seems annoyed, asking why Tally couldn't wait the three months to see him. Just as troubling, the tiny scar on his palm matching hers, from their rite of blood brothership, has vanished --- replaced with perfect beautiful skin.
Escaping from New Pretty Town, Tally meets Shay, another ugly waiting to become pretty. The two become great friends, hoverboarding and plotting practical jokes together. When Tally shares her choices for her upcoming transformation (she favors a sultry Cleopatra look), Shay amazes her with her attitude. Shay hasn't even bothered to decide how she'll look as a pretty.
Tally buys the party line taught in school: a world of pretties is the only way to make everyone equal. It solves the long-ago problems of judging people by appearances and waging wars based on skin color. Besides, everyone wants to go through the rite of passage.
Shay persuades Tally to sneak into the restricted area outside the city where she discovers a wild stretch of white water, mountains, trees, and the ruin of an old city. Shay confides that she hopes to meet a mysterious person named David here. Shay's talk troubles Tally. Shay maintains that she not only doesn't want to become a pretty but that the operation is in fact unnatural. She even swears that she and Tally are not freaks as uglies.
As Tally approaches her sixteenth birthday and her transformation, Shay invites her to travel to David's home, the Smoke --- a place where everyone lives together in freedom, where there are no uglies and no pretties.
Naturally, Tally refuses to go. But when her long-anticipated operation day arrives, she is confronted with the frightening Special Circumstances team. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she learns that she must spy on runaway Shay in order to become pretty. Tally plunges into an amazing quest in which the ante constantly ratchets upward, plunging her into one impossible situation after another.
With extreme makeover shows like "The Swan" transforming people into pretty clones, Tally's world seems creepily not all that far-fetched. UGLIES is not only timely food for thought, but is a breathless, can't-put-it-down read, leaving readers impatient to get their hands on the second book in Scott Westerfeld's trilogy, PRETTIES --- immediately.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on February 8, 2005