Published in 2005 by Simon Pulse

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

There was something magic in their large and perfect eyes, something that made you want to pay attention to whatever they said, to protect them from any danger, to make them happy. They were so... pretty.

Tally lives in the perfect world, "a paradise. It feeds you, educates you, keeps you safe. It makes you pretty." Or so she thinks. Her every whim is catered to by the hole in her bedroom wall. The only thing she has to wait for is her sixteenth birthday, the day of the operation. And who wouldn't want to be pretty? Looking better than a supermodel and having nothing to worry about except what to wear to the party? Best of all, she'd be with Peris again. It was the life Tally had always wanted.

With only a couple of months until her birthday, something happens. Tally meets Shay and her entire world is turned upside down. Tally is imagining the day they will have the operation together and wake up in New Pretty Town, but while she is busy dreaming up her symmetrical face and golden eyes, her new best friend is making other plans. Shay wants to run away, to stay ugly, and to live in The Smoke. Although Tally remains skeptical of Shay's stories of people actually living in the wild, their adventures together outside of the city help her to see things in a way she never did before. Outside the grid, her hoverboard becomes a heavy burden to bear, the force of gravity given back its natural power. Shay explains, "Out here, you find out that the city fools you about how things really work." And Tally begins to discover that Shay is exactly right.

Talley realizes that "Shay was right about one thing: Being in the city all the time made everything fake, in a way. Like the buildings and bridges held up by hoverstruts, or jumping off a roof with a bungee jacket on, nothing was quite real there... If nothing else, the mess left by the Rusties proved that things could go terribly wrong if you weren't careful." Despite her new awareness that in the city, not everything is what it appears to be, Tally still thinks that the worst wrong that could possibly happen would be to stay ugly. And that's exactly what Dr. Cabel threatens to make happen if Tally refuses to go after her runaway friend and betray everything Shay has been fighting for. She is forced to make a choice: betray her best friend or stay ugly for life. The adventure that choice takes her on brings her places she never imagined in her wildest dreams. She "had spent the last four years staring at the skyline of New Pretty Town, thinking it was the most beautiful sight in the world, but she didn't think so anymore."

Westerfeld's futurist, post-America dystopia is an incredibly vivid and intricate world, one readers may find themselves quickly lost in as they journey with Tally through Uglyville, New Pretty Town, The Ruins, and through the wild to The Smoke. Although the excitement and depth of characters is likely to grab attention, Westfeld did take creative liberties in the creating of his Uglies world. The use of technology, futuristic lingo, and other aspects of this sci-fi do require from the reader a certain level of imagination, but then again, what is a great story for? Regardless of the imaginative nature of the novel, the story is far from unbelievable, a sort of parallel--as well as a critique--of our own imperfect society. Although the social commentary it provides is very intriguing and raises questions about our world today, the simplicity of the language and predictability of the plot may prevent this book from appropriate in higher level secondary classrooms. However, when used as a part of a unit, perhaps paired with a more difficult book, Uglies may serve as a great tool in the seventh through tenth grade levels. Like Tally, your students may begin to explore and apprehend new worlds as well as parts of their own they've never seen before.


About the Author

Recognized author of several published young adult books, Scott Westerfeld primarily writes within the science-fiction genre. Prior to releasing the Uglies series, Westerfeld wrote the Midnighters trilogy, creating a story world in which five Midwestern teens are the only people awake as time freezes at midnight every day. Set in modern-day Oklahoma, the series reveals the dark and hidden world of powerful creatures and follows the protagonists' struggles to survive in a time and place known only to them. His later publication included a set of three stand-alone novels that all take place in modern New York. Breaking away from the sci-fi genre, So Yesterday is an entertaining account of a trend-setting hunter who aspires to end consumerism. The two subsequent novels, Peeps and The Last Days, pertain to the ever growing vampire lit genre, Westerfeld's main focus throughout being the explaination of vampire evolvution and survival. Westerfeld recently returned to the sci-fi genre by publishing The Leviathan Series, a series in which characters fight in WW 1 using "genetically engineered mutant animals" as weapons.

Born May 5th, 1963, Westerfeld grew up in Texas and was raised by his mom and dad with two sisters. His education included a BA in Philosophy from Vassar and graduate work in Performance Studies at NYU. Prior to his career as an author, Westerfeld worked in a factory creating lead soldiers, was a substitute teacher, edited textbooks, designed software, and occasionally wrote as a ghost writer. He also dabbled in music and wrote a few songs for dancers in New York. Some of these are available to listen to on his website.

He is currently married to author Justine Larbalestier and divides his time between New York and Sydney, eager to joke about the number of frequent flier miles he has accumulated.

More information regarding Westerfeld's interests and personal life, please visit his website at

Teacher Recommendations

There are several way in which Uglies could be used in the classroom. Due to the variety of important themes--dystopic society, our relation to nature, science and technology, beauty--there are many ways in which this book could be used and approached. You could even use the book to introduce various aspects of literature, including setting and genre types. Because of the very contemporary young adult nature of this book, it would probably be best utilized in literature circles, as an individual reading project, or some other student-led/oriented aspect of the English classroom. It could also be a good book to suggest to students to read on their own time, especially if your curriculum doesn’t allow for young adult fiction.

Because Tally's world has so many different places--and places we might not recognize from our own experience--a possible way of teaching this book would be to utilize Symbolic Story Representations (SRI). SRI is a way for students to go deeper into the book by creating the things that they see while they read through illustrations and graphs or other visual aids. Students can create scenes, contrasting their idea New Pretty Town to what they picture as The Smoke or other the other landscapes in the book. Another way in which the SRI could be used would be to have students recreate Westerfeld's futuristic inventions like a toothpaste pill or the hover board. This may lead into a conversation about Westerfeld's use of language, focusing on the way in which he uses old words but gives them new meanings or combines and creates words to describe something not yet named.

Another great way to approach this book would be through the use of literature circles. Because the language and plot is simple enough that the material itself does not need to necessarily be taught, this would be a great opportunity for the students to take responsibility for the text and lead their own discussions. The students could be assigned roles like Investigator, Illustrator, Connector, Summarizer, or other roles. By assigning students specific roles, they may read with a more focused intent, knowing that that part of the group work and discussion is their responsibility.

Although this text is rich in thematic topics, it does not really match what many involved with education would consider good literature. Thus, it may be challenging to get the time necessary to discuss all the novel has to offer approved. That being said, you may find it useful to pair it with a more difficult and acceptable work. Although it could pair nicely with any number of books, one with which it could work very well is Fahrenheit 451. These two novels are similar in genre and thematic elements, addressing many of the same societal issues. Because both worlds are presented as being dystopic, it may be useful to use Uglies to introduce students to the idea of a utopia and dystopia. It may also be beneficial to have students discuss the similar symbols and events that occur in the two works. For example, have students consider the role of the railroad in both books and what it symbolizes. Have them also consider the significance of the burning of books in each novel. It may be interesting to have students regard the world of Fahrenheit 451 as being "Rusty," the world of Uglies occurring years later. Have them imagine the war at the end of 451 leads up to the fall of the Rusties. Ask them to write or act out what happens between the end of the 451 and the beginning of Uglies, including what happens to Montag and how the society of Uglies was formed. This task may be more appropriate for slightly older students--ninth or tenth--grade as it requires the ability to fully grasp and understand the significance of each novel as it relates and pertains to our own world.


Additional Resources

Scott Westerfield Website: Author website containing biographical and writing information.

Uglies Wikipedia Page: Wikipedia entry giving details about the book including a character list and plot introduction Uglies page: page where Uglies is reviewed and can also be purchased. summary: page that summarizes and reviews Uglies. Also links to a purchase website.
The Trades Book Review: Page that reviews Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.
Cliffnotes review and analysis: Reviews and analysis of Uglies and the other books in the series.
Student Created Uglies Trailer: Youtube fan video that provides a potential trailer for the Uglies movie currently in development.
Pretties Wikipedia Page: Wikipedia entry giving details about the second book in Scott Westerfeld's saga, Pretties.
**Scott Westerfeld Quotation Page:** Page containing interesting quotes from works by Scott Westerfeld.
**Scott Westerfeld Biography:** Website that gives a biography of Scott Westerfeld's professional life including awards earned.

-Nikki Reed, Allen Meyer, Anne Giocondini, Jessica Doner, Heather Thompson