YA Review: Uglies

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Tally and Peris have been best friends forever. The three-month gap between them has never been a problem, until Peris turns sixteen and has the operation. He is transformed from an Ugly to a Pretty, and moves with the other sixteen-year-olds to New Pretty Town. He promises to keep in touch, but Tally only receives one brief message from her friend. With three months to go before her own operation, she’s desperate to see Peris again, even though Uglies are banned from New Pretty Town.

While she waits for her birthday, Tally meets another Ugly who is also counting down the days until she turns sixteen – but Shay isn’t like Tally. She doesn’t want to go through the operation and become someone else’s idea of pretty. There’s no way to escape the operation without running away, but Shay has a plan, and somewhere to run to. As she spends time with Shay, Tally is torn between the friend who abandoned her, and the friend who wants to leave the city for good.

Uglies is an engaging YA dystopia that takes a critical look at what it means to grow up. Do you live your best life by conforming, changing yourself to fit in, and living in luxury – or by staying true to yourself, and working hard to survive outside the society that won’t accept you as you are? The author is careful to present a balanced choice. New Pretty Town is a place of constant parties where everything – food, drink, shelter, clothing – is provided and the biggest concern is wearing the right outfit in order to fit in. It sounds like a fun place to live, and the Pretties certainly seem to enjoy their lives. Living outside the city is hard work. Food must be hunted or grown, clothes must be made by hand, and surviving every day involves hard physical work. Tally is genuinely torn between her two possible futures, and her two best friends, and it is easy to see what makes her uncertain.

Tally is a relatable main character, trying to make the right decisions at every point in the story. She doesn’t always succeed, but she understands that living with those decisions might mean taking brave actions to make up for her mistakes. The characters around her feel real, and her relationships with them are not always straightforward. As she faces the decisions she must make as she reaches her sixteenth birthday, Tally’s doubts and uncertainties are entirely understandable, driving the story to unexpected places. The bad guys are scary without ever slipping into cartoon-villain territory, and the world building is just detailed enough to create a believable dystopian setting.

I enjoyed Uglies, and picked up the second book in the series as soon as I’d turned the final page.

Have you read Uglies? What did you think of Tally’s story? Would you have made the same choices? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Archivist Wasp

Title: Archivist Wasp
Author: Nicole Kornher-Stace
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

I picked up this book because the author described it as ‘zero-romance YA’, and as someone who writes friendship-based YA I wanted to experience someone else’s take on non-romantic relationships. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that I loved it – I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I loved the die-for-each-other friendships.

Archivist Wasp hunts ghosts in a world haunted by a terrible past. A war created the Waste, and destroyed a civilisation. For hundreds of years, an Archivist has protected her town from ghosts – hunting them, catching them, studying them, and destroying them. But every year, the Archivist must fight other girls to retain her title – and it is always a fight to the death.

Wasp has retained her title for the last three years. The book’s Prologue throws the reader directly into high-stakes action, as she fights for her life and a fourth year as Archivist. The danger feels absolutely real, and from the first page we understand what Wasp is fighting for.

Life as an Archivist is hard. The people she is protecting leave offerings to make sure she is fed and clothed, but no one will socialise with her. The only people she can spend time with are the priest, who steals her offerings and hunts her down when she tries to escape, and the upstarts, who spend their lives preparing to defeat her and take her job. When she meets a ghost who needs her help, she sees a way out of her isolated existence. Together they set out on a journey that will change them both.

Wasp is an interesting character. She earned her name in the fight she won to become Archivist, and throughout the story she shows a determination to survive, and to make life better for herself. She’s not always entirely likeable, but she is completely understandable. She has come from a harsh background and a community that relies on her while pushing her to the edges of survival.

Her relationship with the ghost develops during their journey. There is never any hint of romance or attraction – they both have a job to do, and a goal to reach, and they do everything they can to protect each other on the way. This is a relationship of friendship and respect, and of a gradual building of trust for two characters who usually work alone. The friendship feels authentic, and it is wonderful to read the story and live through the development of trust and understanding between Wasp and the ghost.

The world building is subtle and effective. There’s no infodumping, and we know enough about the post-apocalyptic society to understand Wasp’s motivations and decisions without heavy-handed descriptions or back story. Throughout their journey, the reader discovers more about the setting through the experiences of the two travellers, ensuring that we feel fully immersed in the action and the plot.

There’s a place for romance in YA books, but there is also a place for life-changing friendship. I loved this book, and the lives-on-the-line relationship between the characters. More like this, please!

Have you read Archivist Wasp? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the emphasis on friendship instead of romance? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Bearmouth

Title: Bearmouth
Author: Liz Hyder
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Newt is one of the Bearmouth boys, living and working deep underground to mine coal for the Master. It’s hard to make a living in the mine – Newt has to pay for boots and candles, and send money home to his mother. He can’t afford the cost of the trip to the surface, so he’s stuck underground with his work team. The boys and men who share his dorm are his Bearmouth family, looking out for each other in a dangerous environment, and keeping each other’s secrets. Thomas takes care of the younger boys, and teaches them to write – and this allows Newt to tell his story.

Bearmouth is a book about friendship, loyalty, identity and rebellion. So far, so YA – but it is Newt’s distinctive voice that sets this story apart. The book is written in first person present tense, and narrated using Newt’s attempts at phonetic spelling. As with any phonetically transcribed book, the first few pages are hard to engage with, as the reader attempts to find the voice behind the unfamiliar words. Thanks to the skill of the author, and a careful balance between misspelled words, expressive dialect, and the cadences of Newt’s storytelling, it doesn’t take long to tune in and hear the narrator’s voice as you read.

It’s a captivating voice. Newt is good at his job, and he tries hard to learn his letters with Thomas, but there is so much he doesn’t understand. There is pressure on the Master to open up more of the mine and produce more coal, which makes Bearmouth a dangerous place to live and work. As the realities of his world come into focus through the events of the story, the injustice that is obvious to the reader becomes clearer to Newt and his friends.

The book doesn’t pull its punches. There are scenes of violence, and scenes that hint at the constant threat of violence that surrounds Newt and his work team. There are deaths and disappearances, mining accidents, fights, and abuses of power. Newt’s dorm feels like the only place of safety in a mine full of violent men, and this danger draws the reader into the story.

This is a captivating story, engagingly told. The reader can’t help but sympathise with Newt, and the actions he takes in order to survive. Stick with the first few pages, and you are rewarded with Newt’s unique voice and growing understanding of the world around him. Follow Newt into the dark, and you’ll be cheering him on as the danger closes in.

Definitely worth a read.

Have you read Bearmouth? Did you enjoy the story? What did you think of the Newt’s narration? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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