Saturday, December 31, 2011

Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

I fell in love with YA dystopia after reading The Hunger Games, but as trend-setting as that novel was, it was certainly not the first and I often heard reference to the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld. After enjoying my first experience with Westerfeld's writing when I listened to his Midnighters Series on audiobook, I decided to finally pick up the series I'd been meaning to read for the last year. Although I owned the set in paperback, Westerfeld's books definitely make for exciting audio and that is how I experienced them. Like I usually do when reviewing a series at once, these mini reviews will avoid any spoilers for any of the books which means I won't refer to specifics for the latter books.

The first book in the trilogy (+one, since the final book was added later and features mainly different characters) is Uglies. It begins with Tally, a girl whose life is about to change- she's nearly sixteen and on her birthday she'll finally get the chance to turn Pretty. Once she does, she'll get to live in another city full of people who have been turned gorgeous through surgical operations, and Tally will be one of them. While waiting anxiously for that moment (after all, her best friend is already on the other side) Tally becomes friends with Shay. Only Shay isn't quite so sure that being Pretty is everything Tally believes it to be, and when Shay runs away rather than face the operation the authorities leave her with one choice: find Shay and turn her in, or she will stay an Ugly forever.

Uglies was a great introduction to this series, and I was instantly impressed by the creativity and genius of Westerfeld again. While the Midnighters books were strict science fiction, this series is dystopia, and he is just as brilliant in this genre as he was in the former. One of the things I loved about Tally was how she didn't start off aware of all the issues in her world, she was completely excited about turning Pretty, just like most people would be, and it was only over time that she realized that it might not be quite the paradise she has been lead to believe. Tally is a relateable everygir.

I also enjoyed her complex relationship with Shay. For me that was the biggest difference between these books and Midnighters- that I actually enjoyed and rooted for the characters whereas in my first try with Westerfeld I often found them unlikable and so I was definitely a fan of the voice in these first three books despite not at all enjoying the narrator of the audio books I listened to, who sounded a bit stoned or tired in a way that occasionally made me disconnect from the stories.  

After the intensity of Uglies I had high hopes for the sequel, Pretties, and this was shockingly one of those series where the second book actually gets better. It is such an original and riveting look into the genius and complexity of the world Westerfeld has created and really provides an opportunity to get to know it better. Not only does the book answer the questions I'd had lingering from Uglies, but Pretties proves just how easy it can be to change a person in a way that is eerie in its realism. It didn't hurt that it also introduced my favourite character in the series, the absolutely charming Zane.

Tally's final adventure comes in Specials, and although it didn't quite live up to Pretties it was infinitely better than Blue Noon the final book in the Midnighters' Series. It is refreshing to know that Westerfeld can infact write an ending that doesn't make me want to throw the book across the room (although then he goes and doesn't leave it alone by writing an entirely unplanned fourth book in this "trilogy").

Specials was even creepier than Pretties and it is definitely a bleak book. The use of cutting made me a bit uncomfortable at times and it is probably not a novel for those who are concerned by triggers. I guess with all the originality that Westerfeld shows in creating these worlds, I would have hoped for something a little more innovating than cutting to be used in the book. There are many strong parallels in the novels between Tally's World and Our World, but unfortunately cutting didn't work for me that way. My other issue with the book was that Tally's relationship choice felt more out of default than love, but overall Specials was a delightfully creepy story and a perfect conclusion to an original and ground-breaking series. 

Only it wasn't the conclusion, because Westerfeld went and wrote a fourth novel, Extras, which features an entirely different protagonist several years later. Now the problem with the book is that viewed as a continuation of the Uglies Series, it was a let down. But viewed as a standalone Extras works much better. That because so much has changed since Specials ended it really felt like a different world and the transition was a bit awkward for me. I also didn't love the new set of characters nearly as much as the old ones, though it was great to see some familiar faces eventually and find out what they had been up to.

Ultimately, the Uglies Series is an exciting, page-turning, innovative one and I can fully understand why it was such a trend-setter.  Although Westerfeld's characters can be hit or miss for me, I did enjoy the main set featured in the first three books and the changes they went through. As a conclusion to the series, Extras was lacklustre, but it did provide an interesting storyline on its own. Overall, Westerfeld has an amazing and brilliant mind, and he has only left me wanting to read more of his books. Having read seven novels by him in 2011, I'm excited that there are still many more for me to pick up in 2012.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My (Unintended) Hiatus

So this blog has been pretty dead lately! And there's a good reason for that: it's a book blog, and I haven't been reading much these days. I have three major excuses:
  1. NaNoWriMo (I won! And am now editing my novel)
  2. Thesis (Apparently finishing a masters is a lot of work)
  3. Health (Despite having been diagnosed with celiac several months back and going gluten free, my iron has actually gone down even further and I fainted early this week)
Right now #2 and #3 are taking priority, and as much as I'm hoping to get to #1 it is definitely on the back burner until I finish my masters. Unfortunately, so is this blog. I'm hoping to update as much as I can and continue to read when I get the chance, but my thesis is due March 1st so I suspect I will be pretty busy till then! Just wanted to elaborate on my absence and explain what is going on and that I hope to be back regularly as soon as I can.

Happy December and Happy Reading Everyone.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Review Elsewhere: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

"Ultimately, May B. is a moving story of survival – a quick book to read, but the memory of it will last much longer."

Irrelevant side note: I absolutely love this cover! Perfect for middle grade but with enough ambiguity to it that an older reader could pick it up, I think the art work is lovely.

Review Elsewhere: Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

"An emotional and powerful novel told in verse, Exposed is both raw and poetic in style; there is a lyrical nature to Marcus’ writing that makes it beautiful and compelling to read."