Tally Youngblood is approaching her 16th birthday and can hardly wait. On her birthday she will receive the operation that all citizens of her city receive: she will become a pretty – symmetrical, attractive, and perfect in every way. Tally’s friend, Shay, is not as enthusiastic about the operation and talks about running away to the Smoke, a place where people choose to live in secret – and stay ugly, a concept that baffles and horrifies Tally. As the day of her operation nears, Shay runs away and Tally’s dream is ripped away from her as the Special Circumstances section informs Tally that she must find her friend and turn her in, or remain ugly forever. Tally must decide between betraying a friend and fulfilling her dream, all the while learning that becoming a pretty may have more serious implications than she could have imagined.
I really enjoyed this book. Westerfeld creates a balanced, detailed world with fleshed out characters that feel real and a plot that is tightly paced and moves at just the right pace. Tally is very likeable and it’s easy to root for her, no matter what situation she is in. Westerfeld does a great job of creating a strong friendship between Tally and Shay, as well as illustrating Tally’s longing to be a pretty, so that when the time comes for Tally to choose, I sympathized with Tally’s plight completely. I thought he did a good job of letting the story flow at its own pace. That is, nothing ever felt rushed or forced, as some authors feel the need to do with these types of stories. All around, this story is balanced and well-crafted.
This is the first of four books (all have been published) and Westerfeld offers some resolution to the first part of the story, while setting up some very intriguing situations and conflicts to carry into the next books. The revealing of the seedy underbelly of the government is particularly well done. I highly recommend this book, and not only will I be reading the next ones, I already have ’em downloaded on my Kindle Fire and ready to go. If you are a fan of dystopian fiction, this is a great read.