by Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed date: 2011 May 16
448 pages
cover art

Tally Youngblood is counting down the days to her sixteenth birthday, when she will get the operation to make her pretty. All her friends have already become pretty, so Tally has a few months to spend making juvenile mischief before she grows up. But her world is upset when she meets a new friend. Shay is another young ugly like Tally, except that Shay doesn't want to become pretty. Shay wants to join the Smoke, a community of uglies who live outside the city and never submit to the pretty operation.

Tally wants nothing to do with the Smoke--she wants to be pretty. But when Shay runs off to the Smoke, Tally is introduced to the darker side of her city. She is picked up the Special Circumstances, where she is informed that unless she leads them to the Smoke, she will never be pretty. So Tally takes off into the wilderness to follow Shay.

When Tally finds the Smoke--or rather, when they find her--she finds a whole new perspective on life. The hard, physical labor of living off the land is a shock, but she soon learns an even more shocking truth: the pretty operation not only transforms a person's looks, but also transforms their brains. Pretties are mentally lobotomized by microscopic brain lesions introduced during the surgery; it makes them docile and controllable. Tally decides that she'd rather be ugly forever than submit to the pretty operation. (It also helps that she meets a cute boy and falls in love.)

But alas, Special Circumstances shows up and arrests everyone at the Smoke. Only Tally and David (her cute boyfriend) escape. Tally and David engineer a brilliant rescue operation and get some of their people out of Special Operation's jail, but the future looks bleak.

There is one glimmer of hope: a scientist discovers a way to potentially reverse the mental effects of the pretty operation. But she needs a willing subject to test the new drug. Tally volunteers. She will become pretty, then take the drug to reverse the mental effects. In the closing scene of the book, Tally walks into New Pretty Town and surrenders willingly to the operation.

Overall, it's a decent book. It's definitely written for a teenage audience--particularly teenage girls--but it's a genuine, for-real science fiction story. I recommend it for kids. Not so much for adults, though.

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