Uglies: Uglies Quartet, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Uglies: Uglies Quartet, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Thoughtful sci-fi about the price of beauty.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 22 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 152 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This future society will kick off some great discussions about what beauty is, what conformity is, whether this is a utopia or dystopia, and even what kind of technology is needed to hoverboard around town. It also brings up the environmental cost of our lifestyle: the way we see it now, the way the very recycling-focused Pretties see it, and how the inhabitants of the Smoke saw it. 

Positive Messages

Raises issues about whether making everyone "pretty" will really "even the playing field" to lessen discrimination and all that comes with it -- jealousy, racism, and war -- or whether altering someone's perception and thinking is what really does it. The way people become "pretty" also sends a strong message about the high price of perfection. The book explores the environmental impact of our world now and how important individual freedoms are and what people are willing to do for them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tally, the main character, is placed in a position that requires her to be brave, fearless, and strong. Although she should come clean with her new friends about how she found them, she more than makes up for her mistake through self-sacrifice. Her friend Shay also is a strong girl character who questions authority and its wrongheaded ideals. Tally and Shay play lots of tricks and sneak out at the beginning of the book, but the behavior seems to be expected of an "ugly."


A skirmish and a death and the mention of a sad death. A woman is hit in the head and knocked out. The gruesome details of an operation are described. Characters are rounded up and handcuffed, then kidnapped. Plus lots of near-falls on a fast-moving hoverboard.


A couple of kisses and mentions of people making out in the bushes.


"You suck."


Barbie dolls are mentioned disparagingly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some drinking and drunkenness by New Pretties. Shay wakes up hungover after a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Scott Westerfeld's Uglies is set in the future and deals with our culture's obsession with physical perfection and hedonism. There's some fighting and a minor character is killed, not seen. A gruesome operation is described. Girl characters especially are brave and stand up to an oppressive regime.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byhublib April 1, 2009

Thought provoking for teens. I have concerns about the series.

As a high school librarian, I read the Uglies series to see if it would be appropriate for my students. The idea about a gov't that orders surgeries that... Continue reading
Adult Written bymrsthomas April 9, 2008

Good Book, but alcohol content an issue

I thought the book was entertaining. I'm not sure, though, why the author had to bring alcohol use into the story. It really bothered me that alcohol was... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 9, 2014

non violent, non sexual way of describing what our society has become

the story's about a society where when you turn sixteen you get transformed from an "ugly" to a "pretty" with a gruesome operation (lit... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysofidomi06 December 22, 2019

Uglies --PLEASE READ--

My personal rating: I really enjoyed this first book in the Uglies Quartet. I got the book on a Wednesday and finished it on the next upcoming Sunday (about 5 d... Continue reading

What's the story?

Tally has grown up in a postapocalyptic world where, at age 16, everyone is given an operation that makes their faces and bodies perfect. Before the operation they are known as "uglies" and after as "pretties." After the operation they live in New Pretty Town, enjoying a life of constant partying and pleasure. Tally can't wait. Shortly before her 16th birthday she befriends Shay, who tells her about the Smoke, a secret community of those who refuse the operation. When Shay runs away to join the Smoke, Tally is given a choice by the Specials, the secret police: Help them find the Smoke and betray her friend, or remain an ugly forever.

Is it any good?

Author Scott Westerfeld manages a delicate balancing act in UGLIES. It's obvious that he had a point to make when he decided to write a book about a futuristic society that celebrates beauty above all else -- and that the world of the book is a not-so-logical extension of certain trends in today's society having to do with physical attractiveness, plastic surgery, mindless consumerism and pleasure-seeking, and divorce from nature. But he never hits the reader over the head with a message and, in fact, allows the lives of the pretties enough appeal to make the argument two-sided.

This intellectual argument is set inside a crackling, though at times maddeningly predictable, story. About two-thirds of the way through the book is a series of events that alert readers will have seen coming a hundred pages earlier, and they'll be frustrated that Tally so stupidly falls into these circumstances. But the final third is a breathtaking race to the cliffhanger ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the author is saying about the pursuit of beauty and mindless fun. Is there something wrong with wanting to be beautiful and have fun? If you could choose to be a "pretty," would you?

  • Why do you think this series is so popular? What drew you to it? Is it what you expected?

  • Is the life of the Smokies better in some way? How does Tally's perception of their lifestyle (eating meat, staying "ugly") change, and why?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and fantasy

Themes & Topics

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