Thursday, May 22, 2008

Book 1 of 100: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

I've heard half a dozen people recommend this book to me in the past few months, but it wasn't until agent Kristin Nelson recommended the series in her April newsletter that I finally paid attention. And then the book sat on my book table in my living room for a month before I realized it was due back at the library and I couldn't renew it because it there was a waiting list of people after me! So I read it, just this week, in entirety. And I couldn't read it fast enough.

The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld is a YA look at a semi-spooky future, but you don't realize it is spooky until after you finish the book, which I think lends to its charm. Tally Youngblood is three months away from 16 at which time she'll undergo plastic surgery (everyone on earth does at 16) to become pretty. Until then though, she's still an Ugly. The Uglies can't do anything fun and are bogged down with rules and plain-jane clothes and surroundings, whereas the Pretties live the high life: parties and clothes and fun and games. At the start of the book, Tally sneaks over to the Pretties side of town to see a childhood friend and on her way back meets another Ugly, one who isn't content with her Ugly lot.

It's a book filled with new images and places and yet, all of this is easily recognized as a darker picture of our modern society. The book moves very fast and every page is jam-packed with new information that enlarges the landscape. Tally has quick wits and is modestly fearless. She brings to the YA fantasy genre a new heroine that teens (and adults) won't be able to resist. I certainly could not.

It's high-concept YA at its best, I think. And it solves the often-perplexing problem writers face. Eudora Welty says to write about what you don't know about what you know.

And then Alice Laplante points out, as writers, we're not looking to provide a lesson, or a moral; we're not therapists looking to cure our characters of pain or neurosis. Our job, as writers, is simply to render what is, using precise, concrete detail.

I think that's what makes Westerfeld's first book so lively and engaging. He does not tell us why something is, he shows us how it is. He doesn't give us easy answers. Rather, he helps us understand the precise nature of the questions.

As Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes says, "Bad books are about things the writer already knew before he wrote them."

1 comment:

dinagideon said...

I LOVE THIS SERIES. Awesome. I hope you read all of them and enjoy them as much as I did!