In Tally’s world, everyone looks forward to their sixteenth birthday, because on that day, each teenager undergoes a medical operation which results in stunning, flawless beauty. Tally, a fifteen-year-old ugly, can’t wait till she turns sixteen and gets to become a pretty and spend her days and nights partying and having fun — until she meets Shay. Shay doesn’t even want to turn pretty — instead, she encourages Tally to join her in running away from the city to join a rumored group of uglies living in the wild. Unfortunately, this group has also caught the attention of the city’s authorities, and they aren’t about to let this subversive hidden society continue…
Written in the class dystopian vein, this young adult novel provides a nice blend of action, setting and character development, and interesting themes. It’s definitely a page-turner, but the themes add a bit of depth to the entertainment — predictably, it deals (in a futuristic setting) with modern society’s obsession with appearance and ‘equal opportunity’ (the operation was invented, among other things, to get rid of discrimination and prejudice), but the themes also include the importance of responsibility and, of course (this is a dystopian novel, after all), independent thought. There’s even an encouragement to teens to ‘grow up’ and behave maturely instead of lounging around wasting time in selfish enjoyment.
In typical YA novel fashion, the book does contain some angst, but not enough to make it a slog to get through it. There is also the obligatory cheesy teen romance. (I don’t know if I’ve ever read a YA novel with a teen romance that felt authentic, but maybe that’s true to life…) I got really annoyed at Tally for being deceptive to the point of ridiculousness in order to keep a secret because if her friends found out they’d think she wasn’t trustworthy! — but then, her deception does end up having negative consequences, so I guess it worked out in the end.
All in all, I felt that the worldbuilding, characterization, and general writing style in the book were very solid. I tend to judge the first novel in a series by whether I feel inspired to read the sequel; I will definitely be reading the next book in this series.