Specials by Scott Westerfeld: A-

From the front flap:
“Special Circumstances.” The words have sent chills down Tally’s spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor—frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally’s never been ordinary.

And now she’s been turned into one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.

The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more.

Still, it’s easy to tune that out—until Tally’s offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she’s programmed to complete. Either way, Tally’s world will never be the same.

Specials is big on story and premise, small on emotional impact. The chief fault of this series (characterization) hasn’t changed. Tally’s in a constant state of flux: she’s this, she’s that, she thinks this, she thinks that, she feels this, she feels that. One can’t really identify with a protagonist whose true nature is so hard to pin down.

The plot and the setting, however, made this an enjoyable read. I was surprised by the direction of the story on a couple of occasions, and though Tally’s ultimate fate is a little odd, it also kind of brings things full circle, so I’m okay with it.

Ultimately, I’d recommend the series, but as a library selection. At this time, I don’t intend to purchase my own copies to have on hand, which I usually do with true keepers.

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld: B

From the back cover:
Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she’s completely popular. It’s everything she’s ever wanted.

But beneath all the fun—the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom—is a nagging sense that something’s wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally’s ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what’s wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold.

Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life—because the authorities don’t intend to let anyone with this information survive.

This was definitely the best of the Scott Westerfeld books I’ve read so far, though the first two-thirds of it just felt like exposition.

Tally learns more about her world in Pretties, including the existence of a secret reservation where the violent tendencies of unaltered humans are studied in a tribal setting. It’s pretty interesting, and there really weren’t any particular parts that dragged.

I wouldn’t say the characters were more fleshed out than the previous volume, really, but with the introduction of Zane, Tally’s boyfriend as a pretty, there forms a romantic triangle that I actually quite like. Usually with these, there’s one boy that is my clear favorite, but that’s not the case here. I’m kind of surprised that Westerfeld managed to get me that interested in it.

Therefore, it’s with some renewed hopes for the series that I continue on to its third installment.

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld: C+

From the back cover:
Ever wonder who was the first kid to keep a wallet on a big chunky chain, or wear way-too-big-pants on purpose? What about the mythical first guy who wore his baseball cap backwards? These are the Innovators, the people at the peak of the cool pyramid.

Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque is a Trendsetter, on the second level of the pyramid. His job: find the newest, coolest thing for the retail market. His MO: observe, don’t get involved. But from the moment he meets Innovator Jen James, he can’t help getting involved in a big way.

Part love story, part mystery, part stinging satire, Scott Westerfeld’s spellbinding novel will make you question everything you’ve ever believed about how to be cool.

So Yesterday isn’t bad, it’s just boring. For such a short little book, it took me a while to make it through.

Cons: The plot is very silly, involving a missing friend, some apparently amazing shoes, and preserving the sanctity of “the cool pyramid.” The word “cool” is used approximately 412.9 times. There’s a mistake regarding whose cell phone called whom that no editor seems to’ve caught. The main characters are shallow and uninteresting. Because of something the lead character states at the beginning of the story, the supposed bad guys never project any true menace.

Pros: It’s occasionally amusing. Um… that’s about the only one I can think of.

This is the second book I’ve read by Scott Westerfeld, and so far I am not impressed. And yet, I’ve just started the second book in one of his series. No one can say I’m not giving this dude a chance! I do have to wonder whether actual young adults like this book or are insulted by the implication that they’re all obsessed with being “cool.” Maybe they are, and I’m just too old now to remember how it was.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld: B-

From the back cover:
In the not-so-distant future, Tally Youngblood is quickly approaching her 16th birthday and the mandatory pretty-making surgery that accompanies it. But when Tally’s best friend Shay refuses the surgery and runs away to the Smoke, Tally must choose between friendship and beauty.

When a top-secret organization forces Tally to spy on the rebels of the Smoke—or risk being an Ugly forever—she reluctantly gives in. As the rebels befriend her, she learns that the pretty-making surgery may change more than just her looks. The people of the Smoke are working on a cure. But they need someone to become Pretty to find out if it works.

Uglies reminds me of Feed, with futuristic teens (encouraged to party rather than think) and new slang and gadgetry. Oh, and lesions.

Tally and Shay are friends who get up to various tricks and go exploring and stuff. Tally is gung-ho to become Pretty, but Shay is not enthusiastic. After Shay runs off to avoid the surgery, Tally is drafted to track her down and help the government round up the rebels.

After an extremely boring travel segment (who believes that an imperiled heroine will really die less than halfway through the book?), Tally arrives at her destination. Once there, she feels kinship with the rebels and is completely annoying by not just coming out with the truth and getting it over with. More stupidity—and rationalization for not confessing—follows, and I didn’t like that so much of the plot hinged on the protagonist being a moron.

I’m not sure what to make of this series. The characters are kind of flat. Part of the problem might’ve been with the narrator of the audiobook, who imbued Tally’s friends with dry, nasal voices that made them sound stoned or whiny. Some plotting elements annoyed me and more than once my attention drifted. I probably liked the futuristic setting enough to continue on to the next book, at least.