Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: Scott Westerfeld, The Uglies series

We have followed Tally Youngblood for hundreds of pages by the time she's made into a "Special" - yet for me, she never seems quite as vivid, believable, or possible to empathize with, as she does for the first 2/3 of "Uglies". (She also never seems as compelling as Shay - I kind of wish Shay had been the main character.)

In "Uglies", Tally is motivated by loyalty and love first for her friend Peris, and then for the mysterious David. At the heart of both of these motivations is Tally's desire to be part of something, not alone. This underlying motivation (fear of being alone) stays with Tally throughout the series, but it manifests itself in a random, chaotic fashion, such that it's hard to empathize with her or really even like her very much.

In "Uglies", once Tally falls for David, she's happy to forget Peris (which frustrated me). And in "Pretties", even after her brain is fixed, she's happy to forget David after falling for Zane. It is her love for Zane that motivates her through much of "Specials"; but this love seems kind of random and distant - as a reader I couldn't really understand what the attraction was, probably because neither Tally's character, nor especially Zane's, were very developed.

I think this is because Westerfeld, while an undeniably talented action writer, is not so good at the interpersonal drama. Too often he resorts to "telling" rather than "showing." The relationship between David and Tally in "Uglies" is largely told rather than shown. The best example is the "fight" between David and Tally during their journey back to the city. We're told they have a bitter fight and then don't speak for an hour during a storm one day during their trip. This "fight" is completely out of the blue. Tally and David have absolutely no history of fighting; there aren't any points of tension in their relationship that the reader is aware of. Even more frustrating, Westerfeld doesn't bother telling us, or even hinting at what the fight was about. He merely mentions that they had a fight one day and didn't speak for an hour, but then they made up and everything was fine. This left a sour taste in my mouth, which only intensified in "Pretties" when suddenly and inexplicably Tally is so madly in love with Zane, completely over David despite the fact that her memory has returned and really it was only a few months ago that she was so crazy about him.

Again and again, we are told that Tally is special (even before she becomes a Special). David is constantly saying it to her, the Crims are saying it, and even Dr. Cable. But what's really so special about her? Is her ability to rewire her own brain without the cure also what enables her to move onto new boyfriends and new friends so quickly? Tally's relationships (and even Tally herself much of the time) feel contrived and fake, and the reader feels cheaply manipulated at times.

To sum up: I would highly recommend these books to anyone, young adult or real adult, looking for a great, exciting read and a fictional world to escape in for awhile. But I wish Westerfeld put as much effort into developing his characters as he did into the plot.

3.5 stars

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