Scott Westerfeld


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Uglies Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

The 2005 young adult science fiction novel Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, is a take on the age-old theme suggesting that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It takes place in a dystopian society three centuries in the future. It is a time when everyone, upon turning sixteen, is surgically altered to be “pretty.” The central storyline focuses on Tally Youngblood, a girl just about to turn sixteen, who, at the urging of new friends Shay and David, decides to rebel against the conformity that society demands. Struggles over physical changes are accompanied by emotional turmoil as well. Uglies was the first book in a trilogy that later became a four-book series. The other companion titles are Pretties, Specials, and Extras.

The society in which Uglies takes place formed when a bacterium contaminated the world’s oil supply, leading to widespread instability. The formerly oil-dependent world could not thrive.  People who lived prior to the incident are referred to as Rusties. The story opens with Tally on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday and anxiously awaiting the operation that will make her “pretty.” After receiving these operations, the Pretties cross over a river that separates them from their former section of society. There they will have a new life, free from responsibilities. Two further operations exist. One changes Pretties into Middle-Pretties, who are employed adults, and the other turns Middle-Pretties into what are known as Crumblies. Crumblies are older Pretties; the term is often used by young groups in reference to their parents, who are Middle-Pretties.  Tally’s friend Peris recently received his operation and has already crossed the river. In an effort to see him, Tally secretly crosses the river and enters New Pretty Town. She meets an Ugly there named Shay, who teaches her to use a hoverboard. He then indoctrinates her into the concept of rebelling against the sixteenth birthday operation. She pays the idea little mind but shortly thereafter, on their shared birthday, she finds a note from Shay, who has fled, asking her to meet him at a settlement called the Smoke, where those trying to escape the operation gather together.

On the day Tally is to be operated on, she is brought to a place called Special Circumstances that

is headed by a heartless woman named Dr. Cable. Dr. Cable tells Tally that she will never become a Pretty if she does not aid in locating Shay and the Smoke. Tally goes along with the request, and is given supplies and a tracking device, which is located in a locket and when activated will reveal the location of the Smoke to Cable. Using clues that Shay has left her, Tally heads for the Smoke, where she finds Shay, David (another friend), and a group of runaway Uglies. She soon realizes that David is in love with her, and goes with him to meet his parents.  His parents, Maddy and Az, were the first to flee the city. They tell Tally that the cosmetic surgery to transform Uglies into Pretties is not just for physical appearance. It changes the brain to make people sedate. Tally decides that she will not reveal the location of the Smokes, and throws the tracking locket into a fire. The heat, however, activates the tracker, and their location is identified.

The next day Special Circumstances arrives and Tally tries to escape. She is captured and taken to a pen already holding Smokies who have been caught. Scans are able to reveal the cities from which the escapees had come. Cable does not know that the tracker was activated accidentally in a fire, and orders Tally to get it. This gives Tally the opportunity to escape on a hoverboard. A long chase ensues and she is able to hide in a cave, where she finds David. They devise a plan.   The pair goes to David’s house to retrieve a secret cache of survival supplies. They return to the city to rescue their friend, and en route acknowledge their love for one another. When they get back, they find that Shay has been transformed into a Pretty. David knocks out Cable and takes a tablet from her that has the data needed to reverse the brain activity that the operation causes.  They free the Smokies but learn from Maddy that Az has died. Maddy begins devising a cure from Cable’s information but Shay refuses it, fearing what the outcome might be. Tally offers to become a Pretty and then take the cure, to see what the result will be. Tally explains to David what her involvement with Special Circumstances was. Maddy tells Tally and Shay to return to the city they came from. They return to the city they rebelled against, but Tally, who had wanted to be a Pretty, no longer wants that. The final line of the book, however, makes it clear that Tally has a plan and that there is more to come, as she says, “I’m Tally Youngblood. Make me pretty.”