53 pages 1 hour read

Scott Westerfeld


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


Pretties by Scott Westerfeld is the second book of the Uglies quartet. It is a dystopian science fiction novel set in a world where people believe they are leading lives of luxury, but the cost is more than they can imagine. Published in 2005, Pretties debuted as a New York Times bestseller in both its hardcover and paperback formats. Westerfeld has published more than 20 young adult novels, although he is best known for the Uglies series. While Pretties has not received any awards to date, the first novel in the series received the Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Teens) and the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers (Young Adult).

This study guide uses the Simon Pulse first edition paperback copy of the book.

Plot Summary

Set in a seemingly utopian future in which everyone over the age of 16 is beautiful and most illness has been eradicated, the novel Pretties begins in New Pretty Town, where young “pretties”—those who have undergone the beautifying surgery—lead lives of leisure. Tally Youngblood, the protagonist of Uglies and a new pretty, wakes up after a night of partying. She and her friend Shay dress as Smokies, members of a rebel group living outside of the city that both Tally and Shay were associated with in Uglies. They are going to a costume party that members of the Crims social group attend. There, Tally encounters an “ugly” from Smoke named Croy, who flees when the surveillance group Special Circumstances arrives to apprehend him. She chases him down and he promises that he has left her something hidden in “Valentino 317.”

The next morning, Tally and Zane, leader of the Crims, have breakfast. They kiss and share information about Smoke before going to hunt down what Croy left for Tally. Tally realizes that Valentino 317 used to be a room in Valentino Mansion but was replaced to make room for an elevator. They climb onto the roof and find an old equipment shed with “Valentino 317” scratched on the side, but it is padlocked. The two climb a communication tower to retrieve the key and inside the shed find a letter and two pills for Tally. The letter, written by Tally in the past, explains that the pretty surgery changes the human brain to make people more compliant. The pills can reverse the effect. As Special Circumstances arrives, Zane and Tally split the pills.

One month later, Tally wakes Zane up on a cold morning. They both wear interface cuffs they cannot remove from their wrists, and ever since taking the cure, Zane has experienced unpredictable headaches. They have been starving themselves in an effort to get the cuffs off, though Tally has her doubts whether they will succeed. Despite the negative side effects, taking the pills has changed their minds. They refer to their sharpened thoughts as “being bubbly” and strive to help other Crims feel the same way so they can escape the city. They go to a floating ice rink with the rest of the Crims. The Crims pour alcohol onto the ice to lower the freezing temperature, causing it to crack. The group plummets to the ground below but are saved by their bungee jackets, causing the Crims to become clearheaded.

That night they hold a bonfire. Zane develops a headache and Tally escorts him home, but on her way back to the party, Dr. Cable stops her. Dr. Cable is one of the leaders of Special Circumstances and the woman who tasked Tally with leading her to the Smokies in Uglies. Dr. Cable attempts to recruit Tally for Special Circumstances, but Tally loudly refuses her offer and returns to the party, where she and Shay talk. Shay brings up Tally’s infiltration and betrayal of the Smoke in Uglies and demands to know what really happened on the rooftop. When Tally’s guilt drives her to explain the pills, Shay becomes furious, claiming that Tally should have shared the pills with her instead of Zane. Shay swears they are enemies and storms off into the night.

Three days later, Zane’s friend and fellow Crim, Fausto, provides Tally and Zane with “tricked up” hoverboards that cannot be tracked. The two go for a ride and encounter two uglies, who tell them that New Smoke (the settlement the Smokies founded after the Specials destroyed their old base at the end of Uglies) has been active in the Rusty Ruins (an abandoned city the Smokies use as a rendezvous point). The uglies then lead them to a park where Shay has gathered a group of pretties to engage in self-harm to achieve clearheadedness.

Zane is overwhelmed with emotion and experiences a powerful headache. Tally takes him to the hospital, but he recovers as they arrive and they realize that her interface cuff has been uncovered throughout the ride, allowing someone to listen in on their conversation. Zane punches a piece of metal to injure his hand and they go into the hospital. Zane has a minor surgery while a therapist talks to Tally, expressing worry about Shay.

As Zane and Tally leave, they realize they have run out of time and begin preparations to escape. Zane, Tally, and Fausto go to a machine shed to use a crushing tool on their interface cuffs, but Tally finds heatproof gloves and instead persuades them to steal a hot air balloon. They fly over the city with Fausto and Peris (Tally’s childhood best friend), and Zane and Tally successfully remove their cuffs using the balloon burner, planning to jump from the balloon with their hoverboards. Zane tells Tally he loves her as he leaps out of the balloon. Peris expresses doubts and decides not to follow. Tally hesitates too long and misses the edge of the city. She decides to jump while above the river, trusting the metal in the riverbed to activate her hoverboard. While this works to a certain extent, the river level has risen because of recent rain, and Tally crashes into the water, breaking her hoverboard and hurting herself. She swims to shore and begins the long process of hiking to the Rusty Ruins, where she hopes to reconvene with Zane and the other New Smokies.

On Tally’s second night in the wilds, a group of adult uglies attack her. They chase her through the woods until she lands in a pool of water. When she cleans the mud from her face, the men recognize her as a pretty and fall to their knees. One of them speaks her language and apologizes for attacking a god. The group leads her to a village, where Tally meets Andrew, the holy man. Tally realizes that the villagers think pretties are gods; she also learns that scientists have been visiting them. The village holds a feast in her honor, and Tally is struck by the dirty, ugly nature of the people around her.

The next day, Andrew agrees to escort her through the forest but tells her that they will reach the edge of the world before they reach the Ruins. As she and Andrew hike, she is shocked to learn about a cycle of vengeance between the villagers and their enemies, which involves senseless killing. At the edge of the world, Tally finds small plastic dolls that emit an electrical frequency that overwhelms her system. She realizes she is trapped in a science experiment.

Andrew agrees to help Tally steal a hovercar the next time the adult pretties visit. She hides in a cave for a week until their arrival. Andrew distracts most of the scientists, but one man sees Tally. She pretends to be a normal pretty but then locks him in a cargo hold and questions him further, confirming that the reservation is a science experiment. She also learns where the lesion surgery was invented. Andrew appears as Tally gets ready to leave, and she realizes that she will have to return to help the villagers escape one day. She flies to a space outside the Ruins and hikes the rest of the way.

She reaches the tallest building in the city and yells until a person on a hoverboard arrives. It is David, and they both feel conflicted emotions at their reunion. They share his hoverboard and fly for several hours to an old Rusty observatory, where New Smoke has been rebuilding. There, Tally reconnects with some of the cured Crims and sees new ugly recruits. Zane is inside, resting. Fausto, David, and Maddy explain that the two pills were meant to be taken together. One cure contains nanos that destroy the lesions, while the other pill contains the necessary material to destroy the nanos. Zane only took the first pill and it ate away at his brain tissue. Maddy implanted fresh tissue, but he is still in recovery. This means that Tally cured herself without the help of the pills.

While Tally is bathing, a tracking device activates, sending the New Smokies scrambling. Tally realizes that the device is a tooth implanted in Zane while he was getting surgery on his hand. Maddy cannot remove the tooth because it is attached to his jawbone. She recommends they leave him behind as the other Smokies pack and flee. Tally and David fight as Tally refuses to leave Zane. She resorts to calling David ugly, forcing him to leave while she and Zane wait for the Specials to arrive. When they do, Tally is questioned but reveals nothing, and Zane is taken away for medical treatment. After an hour, Shay appears, having undergone new surgery to become a Special. She tells Tally that the two of them will be best friends again, and Tally realizes she is going to be forced to become a Special as well. Shay knocks her unconscious, and the book ends with Tally dreaming, uncertain of what is happening to her body.