Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, which means she can finally become pretty, like all of her friends before her. At sixteen, everyone has an operation to turn them into beautiful people and tally is the last. But until then, she has to kill time in Ugly Town, without her friends for company. Desperate to see her best friend Peris again, Tally sneaks over to New Pretty Town to see him and in the process meets Shay, another Ugly who is waiting for her sixteenth birthday. The two become quick friends, but when Shay disappears before her surgery, everything changes for Tally. The authorities insist that Tally help them find Shay, or she will have to stay Ugly forever.
Westerfeld does a masterful job of taking society’s obsessions with beauty to the extreme. He is particularly good at showing how flawed the obsession with beauty is and how brainwashed people are about it.
Tally was a realistic character who, unlike most book characters in these types of dystopian societies, is not a rebel. She likes to play some pranks, like any Ugly does, but at heart she truly does want to become a Pretty. It is only circumstances out of her control and the friends she meets that makes her begin to question this chosen path. (This makes her somewhat passive in the beginning, but she grows into an active character.)
The weakest point of the novel is a stretch of time where Tally is on her own. Having no conversation and companionship, though important to the story, makes things go a bit slowly for that section. However, any loss of pace there is quickly made up in the excitement that follows.
I would like to find out more about the country as a whole (we get a little bit of it, but for the most part we only really see Tally’s community) and what adulthood is like in this dystopian world. Since it is a four book series, I am sure there is more to come and already I have begun reading book two. This is definitely one of the better dystopian novels out (and came out slightly before this new obsession with this genre) and I highly recommend it.