In this second book in the Uglies series, Tally has undergone the operation and is now pretty. Life is a series of non-stop parties and responsibility-free fun, until she is reminded with a jolt of her past — and the truth about the operation she’s had. Along with her pretty boyfriend Zane, Tally attempts to gather a group of pretties to escape the system and rejoin the rebels at their hidden location in the wild. But the elite (and terrifying) Specials are hot on her trail…
Although this book was still a tolerably interesting read, it is a move downhill in several areas from its predecessor. For one thing, it is lighter on plot than the previous book; it suffers from the common problem of Volume Twos, in that it feels mostly like a set-up for the third book in the series. Alas, what the book lacks in plot it makes up for in added modern angst (even including a girl who ‘cuts’ herself in an attempt to keep her mind sharp) and even more teen romance, which includes a kind of repellent (to me) situation in which Tally has to decide which boyfriend she likes more, the pretty one or the ugly one. (It is made clear that she’s been sleeping with Zane; though nothing is the least bit described, it’s really bothersome that the author takes it so much for granted that Tally moves in with Zane as soon as she starts dating him.)
The book does develop further some of the interesting themes introduced in the first volume. The characters look back to what is clearly our own civilization with disgust and disdain — we are portrayed as violent, oil-addicted, nature-destroying jerks in a way that would make the PC crowd jump for joy. However, this image of our own society is perpetuated by the power-tripping, obviously evil Specials in order to maintain their own system of control and subjugation. Maybe the Specials really did start the system in order to get rid of murder, jealousy, anorexia, et cetera, but it has certainly morphed into something terrible. The mental effect of the ‘pretty’ operation removes people’s tendency to violence and hatred — and leaves them mindless, irresponsible shells with no ability to choose anything, right or wrong, fit only for self-gratification. So which is better, a violent society in which people can make their own choices, or a peaceful one in which no one carries any responsibility? I will be interested to see how Westerfield deals with this theme in the third book.