Uglies: Shay’s Story

I haven’t read The Uglies, the young adult prose series this graphic novel spins off from, so my first question was “will I enjoy the book without that knowledge?” The answer is yes.

The key premise, a world where everyone is made pretty via surgery at the age of 16, is explained through Shay’s narration. She’s a young rebel who hoverboards out to the wild ruins past the city, where she finds David and other teenagers who want to escape their regimented urban life. Soon, she faces a significant choice: accept the way her society works and get the operation, or be true to herself although it requires struggle and harder work.

It’s a familiar story, but an entertainingly told one, although I was surprised at how short the chapters were. (There are 23 in the fewer than 200 pages of story.) It seems I was just getting into the moment when the scene would change. Perhaps the book is better aimed at the younger reader, with a different attention span.

I also found it strange that Shay was drawn so cute (as shown here), when we’re being told she’s skinny and imperfect. That’s the point of the premise, that everyone is pretty in their own way, but it’s backed up by the polish Steven Cummings puts on all the characters. The visuals are also a feature that the graphic novel has over the text novels, being able to show us the author’s vision of his characters. There’s more about that in the short sketchbook section at the back, which presents Cummings’ design drafts with Scott Westerfeld’s comments.

Shay drawn by Steven Cummings

My biggest problem with the book is its drawing point for series fans. When Tally, the protagonist of the novels, shows up, the story assumes we know some things a new reader won’t. Shay falls hard for her (in a platonically best friend way), and I just didn’t see the appeal. We don’t get much sense of Tally as a character, perhaps to avoid duplicating the book material, and what we do see isn’t particularly likable. Her section of the book, the last third, reads as more rushed than the pacing to that point.

The art throughout Shay’s Story is active and attractive, with Cummings taking every advantage to show us Shay’s sense of adventure. She seems to live on her hoverboard, zooming around, playing pranks, and hacking tech. It’s a fun, light-hearted read that still provokes opinions about how important appearance is and should be. (Even if it does engage in its own stereotyping about pretty people being less intelligent.)

The concluding second volume is due out within the year. You can read the first chapter online via Amazon. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

4 Responses to “Uglies: Shay’s Story”

  1. Laur Says:

    My younger sister keeps recommending I read The Uglies. I just might have to cheat and read the GN. XD

    I agree Shay doesn’t look skinny at all but the visuals in that preview chapter are amazing.

    Bookmarking this to read.

  2. Rivkah La Fille Says:

    I loved the prose novels to this series; they were well written as well as thought-provoking and don’t go at all in the direction you might originally anticipate. The ending especially left me thinking about how we alter our bodies for better as well as worse. You’d think this book would be staunchly negative towards bodily alterations, but you’d be surprised! It’s an interesting read and vividly written.

    I read the first chapter of the graphic novel, though, and it’s off-putting how well … pretty the characters who are supposed to be “ugly” are. Westerfeld actually does a beautiful job describing his characters and they feel more real in his books than seeing them drawn on the page this way. Honestly, it’s difficult to draw zits and warts and wrinkles and minor flaws that we consider normal but to the people in “Uglies” are deforming. Especially since this book is drawn in a very clean style. Beautiful art, except that it seems to defeat the entire point of the story to begin with.

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