I used to hate on young adult fiction like it was my job, mostly because the only exposure I had to it was the Twilight series. (And before you’re all, “But Lindsay, you’re obsessed with Harry Potter,” I’ll have you know that I think that Harry Potter transcends “young adult” and is just “literature” or, more specifically, “a masterpiece.”)
But earlier in the year, Emily begged and pleaded for me to read The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. After a few months (and a handful of friends my age pushing me to read them) I finally caved and borrowed the books from a friend. I assumed it would be at least moderately enjoyable, but I didn’t anticipate loving the series. I thought it would be an easy, fun read and an equally accessible way for me to form a deeper connection with one of my students. The Hunger Games series turned my world upside down. The books were incredible. They instantly became my favorite series after Mr. Potter’s. So I guess I’m a YA convert now. (However, I would argue that because of the nature and content of the series, the only thing “young adult” about it would be its main characters. But. That’s irrelevant.)
After I finished The Hunger Games, Emily suggested I read The Uglies Series, comprised of four books (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras) by Scott Westerfeld next. Because I was so deeply impressed by The Hunger Games, I didn’t even ask to borrow the books — I stormed a going-out-of-business sale at Borders and got all four of the books for $25. (Oh, side note: my birthday is in December and I still don’t own The Hunger Games series. I mean. Just a heads up.) Anyway. Here they are!
Emily didn’t go into much detail about the series. She gave me her 13-year-old-girl synopsis, which means she told me about the characters and why “they’re cool,” but as far as the overarching plot, she didn’t divulge much. (Perhaps she did that on purpose?) At any rate, I’m almost done with the first book and, while the writing is significantly less engaging than Suzanne Collins’ or J.K. Rowling’s (but certainly light years beyond Stephenie Meyer’s) the storyline is one that I am glad is geared toward teenagers.
According to Wikipedia:
Uglies is a 2005science fiction novel by Scott Westerfeld. It is set in a futurepost-scarcitydystopian world in which everyone is turned “Pretty” by extreme cosmetic surgery upon reaching age 16. It tells the story of teenager Tally Youngblood who rebels against society’s enforced conformity, after her new found friends Shay and David show her the downsides to becoming a “Pretty”. They show Tally how being a “Pretty” can change not only your look but your personality. Written for young adults, Uglies deals with adolescent themes of change, both emotional and physical.
I don’t want to give anything away (because you should read them!) but in the book, the reason everyone undergoes this operation to become “pretty” is because back in the “rusty” time (aka, present day) those who were considered “pretty” were treated better than those who were “ugly.” They got better jobs, better opportunities, and were respected more in society.
Check out an excerpt from the book that literally made my jaw drop. Two of the characters, Tally and Shay, are flipping through “old” (again, present day) magazines, when they come across an overly airbrushed and dangerously thin underwear model:
“What on earth is she?”
“Which is what?”
“Kind of like a professional pretty. I guess when everyone else is ugly, being pretty is sort of, like, your job.”
“And she’s in her underwear because…?” Tally began, and then a memory flashed into her mind. “She’s got that disease! The one the teachers always told us about.”
“Probably. I always thought they made that up to scare us.”
Back in the days before the operation, Tally remembered, a lot of people, especially young girls, became so ashamed at being fat that they stopped eating. They’d lose weight too quickly, and some would get stuck and would keep losing weight until they wound up like this “model.” Some even died, they said at school. That was one of the reasons they’d come up with the operation. No one got the disease anymore, since everyone knew at sixteen they’d turn beautiful. In fact, most people pigged out just before they turned, knowing it would all be sucked away.
Tally stared at the picture and shivered. Why go back to this?
Um. Crazy, right? In this series, Westerfeld is straight-up challenging society’s view on beauty, and he’s doing so in front of an audience of those who are arguably the most deeply affected. I am extremely encouraged by this. For once, the media is actually doing something productive concerning the growing problem of self-image, eating disorders, and beauty standards in the world. I’m pretty stoked.
Have you read or seen anything lately challenging beauty standards?