This is book 3 of the series Uglies, Pretties, and Specials. For those who want to start this series, any review after Uglies will be a spoiler for the preceding book.
Tally Youngblood used to be ugly, like all the other kids who were not yet sixteen, the age at which they are surgically transformed into Pretties. She finds out, however, that being Pretty also means being “bubbleheaded,” thanks to deliberately inflicted surgical lesions. This bubbleheadedness is supposed to keep citizens happy, unwarlike, and easier to control by Special Circumstances, the secret enforcement arm of the authorities. In Unglies, Tally decides to reject this treatment and become a “renegade,” but at the end of Uglies, she is turned into a Pretty.
Similarly, at the end of Pretties, Tally is turned into a “Special” thanks to her sometime-friend Shay, and it is in this form that we meet her at the beginning of Book 3.
As a Special, Tally basically becomes a cyborg, as she gets the unique enhancements that ensure optimal performance, including ultra-sensitive hearing and vision, bones replaced by high-grade materials, razor-sharp teeth and nails, internal nanos to repair any wound, and perhaps most critically, a sense of being above average; of being better than anyone else. This feeling backfires when she reunites with Zane, her former boyfriend who had mistakenly ingested crippling nanos. Now he evinces physical “weaknesses” that repulse Tally.
Tally is part of an elite group of Specials called Cutters led by Shay, who cut themselves to clarify their minds even more. Shay agrees to help Tally get Zane made into a Special, so Tally can go back to loving him as before. Their scheme backfires, however, when their actions lead to a war between their own city and the city of Diego, where many of the renegades have gone.
Discussion: Westerfeld poses an interesting solution to the mayhem resulting from inter- and intra- group conflicts. If everyone looks alike, it is reasoned, there will be no more cause for wars. The plan doesn’t work, however, without brain lesions, since evolution hard-wired mankind to distinguish among groups and to work for the enhanced survival of one’s own group. Even the bubbleheaded Pretties need to differentiate themselves from the pathetic uglies and from other cliques within Pretty Town.
The uglies who are renegades try to convince others that beauty comes from within, but it’s not an easy task. All that our real-life century has come up with to influence opinions and cultivate biases is magnified a thousand-fold by the technological sophistication of the 24th Century.
It is interesting to me that the two main female characters are so flawed, and the two main male characters are pretty close to wonderful. Shay is evil personified and treats Tally horribly, and yet Tally can’t see any of it. Tally is so shortsighted that she continually creates more problems than she tries to solve. She is regularly manipulated by Shay and by the (even more evil) head of the Specials, Dr. Cable, but seems to take in stride. However, when the renegade David and his mother Maddy try to help her and the others who have had their brains changed, Tally hates them for being “manipulative.” Furthermore, Tally looks at David and cannot see past the ugliness of his irregular features. She looks at Maddy with additional dislike that presumably arises from her guilt over something terrible she did to Maddy.
The book ends on a somewhat improbable note that disappointed me and left some plot elements unexplained. There is now a fourth volume, but my infatuation with the series ended with Specials.
Evaluation: You will certainly want to read this book if you have read Book 1 (Uglies) and Book 2 (Pretties) of the series, but I thought this one was disappointing compared to the previous two. Tally’s enhancements as a Special allowed for too many dei ex machinis, so that the plot was more driven by technology than character.
Published by Simon Pulse, 2006