I admit that I’m a sucker for a great cover design and a catchy title, which is why I initially picked up a copy of this YA sci-fi novel (the first in an ever-expanding series).
The novel follows a 16-year-old ‘Ugly’ named Tally Youngblood, so-called because she has not yet undergone the all-but-mandatory cosmetic surgery that would make her a ‘Pretty’. The Pretties all live across the bridge in a very Brave-New-World environment of care-free hedonism, whose sinister underbelly is inevitably revealed about half-way through the book. (Excerpt from the first chapter below):
Tally crept along the river until she reached a pleasure garden, and slipped into the darkness beneath a row of weeping willows. Under their cover she made her way alongside a path lit by little guttering flames.
A pretty couple wandered down the path. Tally froze, but they were clueless, too busy staring into each other’s eyes to see her crouching in the darkness. Tally silently watched them pass, getting that warm feeling she always got from looking at a pretty face. Even when she and Peris used to spy on them from the shadows, giggling at all the stupid things the pretties said and did, they couldn’t resist staring. 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.
Now, without getting into the whole plot (which isn’t particularly hard to follow anyway), I can see how the series is doing so well. The topics upon which its theme touches are relevant if not timely: the inherent debate within the novel that we are genetically predisposed to see symmetry as beautiful versus beauty as created by societal norms; or the argument that we are heading towards a society that embraces sameness rather than diversity (i.e. all the Pretties in the book essentially have the same basic look).
The problem I found was that the book doesn’t delve that deeply into these issues; it’s an easy read, with big font and simple vocabularly, (but no worse than Twilight, if you need a comparison, though much less expansive). If you’re in need of a quick read or you know any fourteen year olds desperate to get their noses fixed, pass this book along as a deterant.
Otherwise I’d recommend the better-executed YA sci-fi novel, Feed, by M.T. Anderson (of ‘Octavian Nothing’ fame). His novel has more of a ‘consumerism-will-destroy-us-all’ bent to it, but in the same span of pages creates characters that are much more complex and has a plot that doesn’t draw attention to the fact that it’s following some preordained track; it also has an absolutely brillant final chapter.
On my bookshelf, Feed has the distinguished honor of being the book with the single best first line:
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.