Literary Criticism and Significance
Published in 2006, Uglies is the first in a series of four novels by Scott Westerfield. Uglies was published to general critical acclaim and was nominated for the South Carolina Book Young Adult Book Award. It went on to be included on numerous best-of-the-year lists for young adult readers, including that of the American Library Association. Uglies and its sequels have been commercially successful and have helped to make Westerfield one of the most popular young adult authors of the 21st century.
Critics have embraced Westerfield’s ability to present traditional dystopian themes for young adult readers. Specifically, critics have pointed out that the novel is built around the self-consciousness and body image anxiety that people tend to associate with teens, an approach that allows his audience to engage with mature themes like the nature of humanity, the limits of human society, and the costs of controlling thought in the name of security. Throughout Uglies and its sequels, Westerfield distinguishes himself through his ability to translate the common desires, excesses, and obsessions in contemporary society into dystopian conflicts.
The alternate universe setting of Uglies is representative of Westerfield’s larger body of work. Although Westerfield has split his focus between mainstream and young adult fiction (primarily the latter since the publication of Uglies), his settings tend to be based around subgenres of science fiction. In addition to the dystopian setting of Uglies, Westerfield creates a “steampunk” setting in Leviathan, and an apocalyptic setting in Peeps. Westerfield is a prolific author and has published well over ten novels in the 21st century, perhaps due to his versatility.
Plotting is one of Westerfield’s recognized strengths. As with many other popular young adult novels, including The Hunger Games by Collins and The Lightning Thief by Riordan, characters rarely have time to rest and reflect. For example, one night Tally falls for David, resolving their love triangle with Shay. When she wakes up, Special Circumstances has already destroyed Smoke. However, this rapid pacing has also allowed Uglies to become a commonly recommended book for reluctant readers. The ironic ending of Uglies, in which Tally finally becomes pretty but not until after she realizes that she no longer wants the operation, is a good example of Westerfield’s strategy to keep readers turning pages throughout the Uglies series.
Uglies is a strong introduction to an interesting and thoughtful young adult series. Based on dystopian themes, an intriguing science fiction setting, and strong plotting, Uglies has become a notable novel that has helped to establish Westerfield as one of the most popular writers in his field.