My camping out at the library paid off in me being one of the first to read Specials, the last of the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. These futuristic novels are thought-provoking and deep, but they’re also entirely entertaining, with high-speed chase scenes and more cool-stuff-per-page than ever. The hoverboards we read about in the first novel are so yesterday — now there are skintennae, sneaksuits, and more. Westerfeld really hits that storytelling stride that keeps you reading in a can’t-stop-now kind of way, which is great fun.
Tally Youngblood and her fast paced friends first were Uglies, living apart from their parents in dorms and waiting for their 16th birthday and the operation that would make them into Pretties. Their world is controlled and circumscribed because of the mistakes of the ‘Rusties,’ the 21st century idiots who killed the wilds with toxic spills, wars and nuclear fallout. Everyone lives in cities now, where waste is taken care of and everyone and everything is taken care of. Ideas are parceled out from the City on newfeeds – no one bothers to read actual books – there are more entertaining things to do. Individualism has given way to a group mind, and even the people who think they are original are somehow… part of a group. There are stages to life, and everyone waits their turn and goes through with little muss, fuss or originality. Except Tally.
Tally’s not the kind of girl to wait for something if she can figure out how to have it now. Sneaking out of the dorm and going into Prettytown before she turns sixteen is only the beginning. After being exposed to more people than her controlled environment wants her to, Tally isn’t entirely sure she’s keen to be changed into a mindlessly happy Pretty. Tally then finds that there’s a world outside of the city where she lives, a world that is even more alien than the world of the Pretties across the river. Tempted to find adventure, Tally leaves, but once outside, she finds that life is harder than she thought. Mistakes can be made. In a wrenching quest for redemption from a mistake, Tally becomes a Pretty, but even there, nothing goes quite as planned. Her beautiful friends are aware, like she is, of the vapidity of their lives. There has to be something more. Once again, Tally makes a move that changes the course of her world’s history.
Now in the last novel of the series, Tally is no longer the bubbleheaded but disillusioned Pretty, but an ultrafast fighting machine. She has a body that is superhuman, razor-sharp teeth and talon-like nails. She’s a warrior, intended for Special Circumstances. Even more specialized, Tally is a Cutter; one of a group of kids who use cutting themselves to lift their brains above the noise of their bodies. It’s a way toward greater control, of separating themselves from everyone. They’re the elite. Westerfeld even changes the language of the slang in Tally’s new world. She no longer seeks to be “bubbly,” as she did as a Pretty, or to find events that are ‘happy-making’; now the way to be is “icy,” in charge, ultra-cool, and totally devoid of emotions. Tally’s best friend Shay tells her she screws up everything with her stupid, bumbling emotions leaking all over the place, and Tally knows it’s true. She longs to do better, and when she loses someone dear to her, Tally finally believes – and shuts down all her emotions.
Humanity’s struggle to be human in a high tech world is played out to an open-ended conclusion. Partially an anti-war tale, partially a pro-environmental story, Specials is a fast ride. The end of the novel is thoughtful and surprisingly hopeful, and I found myself reading the last couple of pages over again – hoping someday that our world has a superhero like Tally.