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This book resulted in some very lively discussion in our recent book club. I, personally, found a lot about this book quite frustrating.

My first major issue is not just aimed at the author but at most Young Adult Dystopian books written over the last few years. There seems to be a tick list of what to write

  • Bland young girl with no personality – tick
  • Earth destroyed by stupidity but rebuilt by secret entities hiding what is really going on and pretending the outside world doesn’t exist – tick
  • Secret societies living in the wild plotting a revolution
  • Bland young girl stumbles across secret society and joins for the love of the boy
  • Girl somehow becomes unlikely leader of rag tag secret revolutionaries and discovers inner bravery.

It just feels like they all have the same setting and basic plot and it would be nice to find one with just that little bit of a difference (I have to read Mortal Engines by P Reeve soon for university which is a dystopian YA book about engines taking over so there’s hope).

I sort liked the premise although it scared me at the same time. Everyone grows up believing they are “Ugly” until the age of 16 when they undergo surgery – drastic surgery that involves entire facial reshaping, grinding down of bones and fat sucking to make for the ideal weight. This at least made a change from killing teenagers for fun but at the same time opens up a load of questions about the perfect person. It’s hinted at that skin colour is changed to the same shade which worries me slightly although the author refrains from going deeper down that path. He also appears to have no idea of how eating disorders really affect people commenting that in olden days (around now I guess as this is in the future) we were all about vomiting but its ok in this world. Anorexia has been wiped out – they just simply suck the fat out at 16 and all is right with the world again. Some even binge eat before that happens – one last chance to stuff your face. I’m not sure it sends the right message at all.

David, the Ugly hero, is equally bland and very easily gets his head turned. He starts with one girlfriend but dumps her with no thought as soon as our heroine Tally appears. For Tally, who doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to become Pretty, also seems to change her mind at a minutes’ notice and falls for Ugly David after being in the camp roughly overnight. I know teenagers can be fickle but at least give the reader some suspense.

And I‘m still trying to figure out how things mysteriously came out of the wall. This was not explained at all. If you wanted something – clothes, food, and medicine – you just went to the wall and got it. Was it a supercomputer? Some kind of 3D printer? Or just some cleverly disguised shelves???

The book had the promise of a good book. There is, today, so much pressure on people to look a certain way, copying celebrities, obsessive dieting and plastic surgery. I kind of understand the idea that we should all embrace our true selves and be happy with what we were given and that really we are all beautiful underneath. Sadly Westerfield chose not to follow through with this idea and create an interesting commentary.

Sadly disappointing.

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