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Book Review

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Uglies” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Tally Youngblood is bold and adventurous. She is also an ugly, but only for two more weeks. On her 16th birthday she will be taken to New Pretty Town to have the operation to make her beautiful, just like her best male friend, Peris.

Everything is on track for her transformation, until she meets Shay, another ugly girl who shares her birthday and love for adventure. Shay teaches Tally how to ride a hoverboard. Hoverboards float above the ground by a series of solar rechargeable batteries and magnets. The magnets are guided by metal in the ground.

The two girls dare to explore outside the city limits to the Rusty Ruins — remnants of a past human civilization that destroyed itself by its greed, violence and destruction of the environment. Shay tells Tally about a group of uglies who live in the wilderness, in a place called the Smoke.

Tally cannot understand why anyone would want to remain ugly when the pretties have so much wealth and are so beautiful. On the eve of their birthdays, Shay tries to convince Tally to go with her to the Smoke. When Tally refuses, Shay gives her a mysterious set of clues to follow, in case she changes her mind.

Tally wakes up on her birthday, sad to have lost her friend Shay, but excited to become pretty and be reunited with her friend Peris. Instead, she is taken to Special Circumstances, a place of legend within the city. Many do not believe it exists, but Tally soon discovers it is real and dangerous.

She is ordered by Dr. Cable to follow Shay’s clues to the Smoke and then press a button on a necklace she is given. It will set off a tracking beacon so Special Circumstances can find her and destroy the rebel uglies. At first, Tally refuses to help because she promised Shay to keep the Smoke a secret. Dr. Cable promises Tally will die an ugly unless she agrees to help.

Tally is forced to live as an exile in Ugly Town. Peris visits and reminds her that she made him a promise as well — a promise not to do anything stupid to prevent her from becoming pretty. Tally returns to Dr. Cable and agrees to find Shay and the Smoke. The clues Shay left are vague, but Tally figures them out. She must lie to Shay and the other Smokies about her trek because it only took her four days, but her birthday was 10 days earlier. She should not have been allowed to stay an ugly after her birthday.

Tally does not immediately press the tracking button to alert Special Circumstances, as she wants to see what the Smoke is all about. It is a group of young and old uglies, who have formed a community. They barter for things like sleeping bags and shoes, but everyone is fed and housed equally.

All Smokies work during the day. Tally is assigned to dig up old railroad ties and track so the Smokies can use the iron to make hoverboard trails. Shay helps Tally to make friends with many Smokies, including David, an older boy on whom Shay has a crush. David is unique, as he has never lived in a city. His parents were pretty doctors who reversed the operation and fled to the wilderness to start a new, more natural life.

The more Tally becomes involved with the Smokies, the less she wants to go back to the city — especially as she finds herself romantically drawn to David, and he reciprocates her feelings. He loves her courage and quick mind. He takes her to meet his parents, Az and Maddy, so they can explain the true cost of being pretty.

They discovered that when the surgeons change a patient’s appearance, they also alter their brain so their personalities are less inquisitive and more accommodating. A pretty’s vapid demeanor is caused by doctors, not their lifestyle. Tally is horrified and destroys the necklace Dr. Cable gave her, rather than go back and become a pretty.

Unfortunately, when Tally throws the device into a bonfire, it triggers the signal. While Tally sleeps, Special Circumstances arrive to destroy the Smoke. Tally manages to escape into the woods where she eventually meets up with David. He raids the equipment his parents had stored for just such an event. Then he and Tally make their way to the city to try and free David’s parents and the rest of their friends. With the help of uglies within the city, they break into the Special Circumstances building. They find Maddy and the other Smokies, including Shay, but are sad to find Shay has been made pretty. Even worse, David’s father is dead.

Shay helps them escape, but only so she can convince Tally to return voluntarily to become pretty. Shay cannot believe she ever wanted to remain ugly. Maddy has developed medicine that could potentially reverse the mental effects of the pretty surgery, but she refuses to force Shay to take it, as it could also kill her.

Frustrated, Tally agrees to go back to the city and be turned pretty so that Maddy can then use the drug to heal her. Tally has to do this to save her friend Shay. When David argues against her plan, Tally finally admits that she had been sent to the Smoke to betray it, and although she had changed her mind, she triggered the attack when she tossed her necklace into the fire. Furious, David leaves Tally.

Tally writes a letter to herself, explaining the effects of the operation and how she willingly wants it to be reversed. It is her way of giving Maddy permission, even if as a pretty, Tally refuses. Tally knows that if David comes to rescue her from New Pretty Town, it means he has forgiven her. Tally returns to the city and gives herself up to the officials so she can become pretty.

Christian Beliefs

Although no religion is mentioned, the story says that Tally prayed at one point for warmer weather. Whom she prayed to is not mentioned.

Other Belief Systems

Tally speaks of several events as "good luck," such as when her hoverboard was not burned in a fire and that she was able to escape the specials.

Authority Roles

Tally refers to her parents by their first names and has not lived with them for several years. Uglies are taken from their parents as 12-year-olds and live in dormitories until they turn 16.

Tally’s parents visit and try to convince her to help the specials, but Tally has no real attachment to them. David’s parents, Az and Maddy, are loving and supportive, but they live apart from David and the other Smokies. Dr. Cabel is brutal in her dealings with Tally and the Smokies.


H--- is used. Other objectionable words used are sucks, crap and stupid.

While visiting the Rusty Ruins, Tally imagines what it must have been like for the people who tried to escape the burning city, and the panic they must have felt as their cars piled up on the roads. They had to crawl over each other to get out.

The specials destroy the Smoke. They burn down the buildings and herd the Smokies into a corral until they can be bound and taken away. Those who try to escape are killed.

Tally is thrown to the ground, kicked and handcuffed. She finds a man in the woods whose neck has been broken by a special. David hits Dr. Cable over the head, knocking her unconscious.


Tally and David share several passionate kisses. While spying in New Pretty Town, Tally surprises a couple in the bushes of a garden. She describes them as a tangle of perfect arms and legs.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Tally lies several times. The most blatant is to the Smokies about her exploits in finding the Smoke and her reasons for coming.

Alcohol: New Pretties attend parties at which alcohol is served. When Shay and Tally are reunited, Tally notices that Shay slurs her words because she is drunk.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 and up


Scott Westerfeld






Record Label



Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division


On Video

Year Published



ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2006; SLJ Best Book of the Year 2005


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