Close on the heels of Wintergirls, I read Scott Westerfeld's Pretties, the second in his series that eerily twists a major theme from Wintergirls around a strong sci-fi premise, and all too literally shapes the characters to fit the scene. There's a one-two punch going on here: Westerfeld created a compelling world for his characters to live in, and characters who stand a good chance to survive and even change it.
In many ways, I thought Pretties outshone the first in the tetralogy, Uglies. The first book in a science-fiction or fantasy series always has the advantage of the reader's wide-eyed wonder. Janet Rowling dithered on her way to introducing the main character, and it worked, because the wizarding world was so fun to watch, especially how an awful muggle like Uncle Vernon interacted with it. JRR Tolkien shows us the placid Shire and introduces the simple hobbits, and simpler dwarves, long before moving on to a plot. And Westerfeld's alt-future world is compelling, but his writing in the second book feels stronger.
One of the fun developments is the protagonist Tally's increasingly complicated relationships, with her friends, her allies, and her society's authorities. Part of the complication is due to the rules of the society Westerfeld set up, in which a central authority tinkers with perception and memory. When this point is abstracted, the premise sounds almost like a postmodern sociology text, but it works well as a plot element. It's also reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, though much friendlier and more action-packed. Dick's characters spent more time in a fog of self-delusion, or believing they were deluded, or not knowing something basic like if they were human, whereas Westerfeld's fly around on hoverboards and have major, dramatic confrontations.
Still, the themes of body image, friendship, and betrayal will resonate with teen readers today. He's cleverly worked the familiar into the strange, and halfway through, this feels like a series I'll continue to enjoy.
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!