to top

The Uglies Series: A Questionable Utopia

book review

Welcome to a future where aesthetic conformity is the law, and coming of age means a make or break surgery to turn “Pretties.” Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, inclusive of four books titled— “Uglies,” “Pretties,” “Specials,” and “Extras,” takes us on a dystopian journey of challenging norms and questioning societal standards of beauty. Explore the gripping narrative as protagonist Tally Youngblood buckles and unbuckles under the weight of social expectations.

Book Titles in Order

  1. Uglies
  2. Pretties
  3. Specials
  4. Extras


In a seemingly utopian future, everyone on their sixteenth birthday undergoes a beauty-inducing operation to transition from an ordinary and “ugly” teenager into a genetically modified, conformingly attractive “pretty.” Our protagonist, Tally Youngblood, eagerly awaits this metamorphosis until she befriends Shay, a rebel who chooses to “bush” the surgery and disappear into the wilderness. Tally, entangled with the murky politics, must make a perilous choice between loyalty to her friend and the lure of physical beauty.

Book Summaries

  1. Uglies:

Set in a rigid world where everyone undergoes surgery at sixteen to become “Pretty,” the story follows Ugly Tally Youngblood. Tally is eagerly awaiting her transformation until she learns about the dark reality behind the alluring operation from runaway Ugly, Shay. With the latter disappearing instead of undergoing the surgery, Tally is faced with a choice — stay ugly forever or betray her newfound friend to secure her dream of becoming pretty.

  1. Pretties:

Living her dream life in New Pretty Town, Tally’s memory of her Ugly past is hazy. When her old friend Zane emerges, helping to unlock her memories, Tally is once again thrown into rebellion against the system. Now, Tally not only fights for herself but also for Zane, who suffers severe consequences from the risky methods used to aid in their cognitive recovery.

  1. Specials:

Many events later, the authorities transform Tally into the thing she despised the most—a Special, a superhuman soldier genetically modified to protect society. Struggling with her internal transformation, she sets off on another adventure—against the very forces that created her. As she faces what she has become, Tally questions who she truly is and where her loyalties should lie.

  1. Extras:

“Extras” veers into a new protagonist, Aya Fuse, living in a reputation-based economy. She’s desperate for popularity, and finding Tally engaged in suspicious activities seems like the ticket to fame. However, she discovers a much deeper conspiracy that may overthrow her society’s delicate balance.

Notable Quotes:

“In a world of extreme beauty, anyone normal is ugly.”

“It’s not the scars that define us, it’s the choice to keep going despite them.”


What if a world existed where everyone looked dramatically beautiful? Westerfeld shows us exactly why it’s not the utopia one might easily mistake it for. The Uglies series is a disturbing and thought-provoking analysis of society’s obsession with looks and conformity. By recalibrating society’s default definition of beauty, Westerfeld draws on the universal adolescence experience of feeling “ugly” and anxiously awaiting the maturity and acceptance promised by adulthood.

This series doesn’t take the standard route of dystopian young adult novels. Instead, it gives us a highly feminized perspective on societal pressure and beauty standards, rarely addressed with such depth in this genre. Tally’s dilemma, her longing for prettiness against what it symbolizes— lack of freedom, loss of individuality, is refreshingly realistic. They are deliberations most of us can resonate with, bridging the gap between Westerfeld’s odd future and our reality.

Rating: 4/5

Given the originality of its premise and its critique of society’s idea of beauty, the Uglies series gets a solid 4. Despite being dystopian-fiction, the themes it explores are painfully relevant, making it a crucial read for young adults and adults alike.

Author Bio

Scott Westerfeld, born May 5, 1963, is an American author of young adult fiction. Westerfeld’s noteworthy works, including the Uglies series, Pretties, Specials, and Extras, explore the themes of adolescent struggles and societal norms through the lens of dystopian futures.

FAQ or Book Club Questions

  1. Do you agree with Westerfeld’s portrayal of societal beauty standards? Why or why not?
  2. Do Tally’s transformations throughout the series mirror her internal growth? In what ways?
  3. What does the book series say about the concept of conformity and individuality?

Where to buy

Are you ready to dive into Tally’s world? Grab your copies here

NOTE: Replace h3 tags with visual HTML when publishing

The Uglies Netflix Adaptation

Great news for the fans, the “Uglies” series is set to rock the OTT platforms with Netflix announcing a movie adaptation of the beloved books. The project marks a new milestone for the book’s vivid exploration of societal beauty norms and the defining journey of Tally Youngblood.

The promising lineup for this adaptation includes some familiar and distinguished names in the television and filmmaking industry. Working alongside Grey’s Anatomy showrunner and Emmy-nominated screenwriter Krista Vernoff in penning the script are Whit Anderson, Vanessa Taylor, and Jacob Forman.

Wielding the director’s hat is McG, renowned for his work in Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation, and The Babysitter. Executive producers include John Fox, Jenny Hinkey, Jamie King, and Scott Westerfeld himself, putting faith in the accurate representation of the book series.

Astonishingly, the lead role of Tally Youngblood will be played by Joey King, celebrated for her roles in “The Kissing Booth,” “The Conjuring,” and “Bullet Train.” King’s inherent connection to the Uglies series, having admired and appreciated the books since she was 11, her acting prowess, and her evident excitement for the role, ensures an earnest cinematic incarnation of Tally.

A multi-faceted ensemble of actors awaits us. The star-studded cast orbits around King, with Laverne Cox from “Orange Is The New Black,” Chase Stokes of “Outer Banks” fame, Brianne Tju from “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and other talented artists like Jan Luis Castellanos, Jessica Craig, Kelly Gale, and others.

It will definitely be intriguing to witness how the cinematic adaptation narrates Tally’s journey in a world obsessed with beauty norms, grappling with choices that weigh individual freedom against conformity. Keep an eye out for this much-anticipated adaptation with a nuanced perspective on societal standards.

Leave a Comment