SpecialsThe Uglies series is set at least 3 centuries in the future, after current civilization was destroyed by a bacterium which de-established all petroleum products, causing widespread chaos. The survivors of this disaster established cities much smaller than those currently existing, each of which is independently governed with limited traveling. At the age of sixteen, each person undergoes an operation which boosts their immune system and reflexes while giving them well-proportioned, symmetrical faces based on an international standard, so that all pretties look nearly identical. They are also given brain lesions which make them peaceful and compliant. Before they receive the operation, children are referred to as "uglies", and are kept separate from their older friends. Later operations follow to show signs of increasing age while maintaining this beauty, and the lesions may be removed for pretties entering careers which require quick thinking. Pretties who work for Special Circumstances , a group which ensures the city's security, are given an operation to make them look terrifying, become very strong and fast, and have incredibly fast reflexes. Specials also receive brain surgery to make them obedient.
The third novel in the Uglies series begins two months after events in Pretties, when Tally Youngblood has become a member of an elite group of "Specials" - surgically enhanced super-humans - called the Cutters. The Cutters were originally founded by Shay, who invented the use of ritual self-harm to become "bubbly" and clear-headed in spite of brain lesions used to make her pretty-minded. All of the specials in this group were able to get rid of the brain lesions on their own, and now live in the wild. They were adopted into Special Circumstances and given enhanced senses, strength and reflexes, and are among the youngest agents working for Dr Cable.
The Cutters disguise themselves as Uglies in order to crash a party in Uglyville and search for members of the New Smoke. Tally successfully finds a girl giving out pills which cure the pretty lesions, which she encourages the Uglies to take to the Crims - Tally and Shay's old clique. The Cutters attempt to capture the girl, but she escapes on a hoverboard with David's help. Giving chase, the Cutters are ambushed by Smokies with unusually advanced technology, including infra-red masking sneak suits and electical weapons. The Smokies kidnap Fausto, one of the Cutters, and leave Shay and Tachs injured.
Hearing that the pills are intended for Zane, Tally insists on going to see her boyfriend, who suffered brain damage in New Pretty Town and has been hospitalised since Tally turned Special. Tally discovers that while Zane is free of the pretty lesions, his brain has been damaged and his physical infirmity now disgusts her.
She begins to wonder if she received a brain operation when being made Special which has given her feelings of superiority.
Eager to show Dr. Cable that Zane is cured so that he will be made Special, Shay and Tally break into the city armory to steal something to cut off Zane's tracking necklace. They succeed, but in the attempt, they accidentally destroy much of the armory, putting the city on high alert. They then begin to secretly track Zane and the Crims as they journey to the New Smoke, although the pair split up when Tally receives a guide to the New Smoke from her friend Andrew Simpson Smith, an escapee from a reservation of primitive culture. Shay follows the guide straight to the Smoke, but Tally insists on staying with Zane.
On the journey, Zane notices Tally and confronts her about her reasons for following him. The pair kiss, but Tally is still repulsed by Zane's tremors and runs away from him. Tally continues to follow the group to the New Smoke - a city called Diego, which accepts runaways freely, having widely adopted the pretty cure and rejected the rules about surgery, allowing anyone to look how they please rather than following the international standard. Tally is amazed by this, but horrified to hear that Diego is beginning to expand into the wild, clear-cutting forest like the Rusties did.
Tally finds Fausto at a party for newly arrived runaways, but realizes his Special brain surgery has been cured. He had given informed consent before he became special to take a "cure" for having a special brain. Tally only just escapes being forcibly injected. Her escape attempt leaves her helpless, and she is picked up by Diego's authorities and locked up for her lethal strength and weapon-sharp teeth and fingernails, which they insist on removing. The doctors inform her that she has received brain surgery to give her flashes of anger and euphoria, along with feelings of superiority, although they will not change this without her consent. With Shay's help, Tally escapes just before the surgery begins.
Shay and the other Cutters have all been cured by Fausto, but they want Tally's help to protect Diego from imminent attack by Dr Cable, who is blaming the so-called New System for the attack on the armory. Tally assists in the evacuation of the hospital, but learns after the attack that Zane, having just received surgery to cure his tremors, died of complications during the confusion of the attack. Grief stricken, Tally leaves immediately to tell Dr Cable the truth about the attack on the armory. Just before she reaches the city, she meets David, who took a helicopter to talk to her in time. He tells her that he still believes she can think her own way out of her brain surgery, but gives her an injector full of the cure so that she has the option of curing herself.
Arriving at Special Circumstances headquarters, Tally finds Dr Cable and the Specials have taken control of the city. Dr Cable knows that Tally was responsible for the attack, but has chosen to use the attack as a way to seize control over both this city and Diego. Tally tricks Dr Cable into stabbing herself on the injector, and is imprisoned underground for a month, watching the feeds as Dr. Cable slowly loses her grip on the city and the cure begins to spread. Diego publishes scans of Tally's Special body and the world is outraged by Dr Cable's "secret" experiments on unconsenting teenagers.
Eventually, Tally is taken as the last remaining Special to be "despecialized", but she resists the surgeons and breaks out with Dr. Cable's help, becoming the only true Special left. She returns to David, still waiting at the Rusty Ruins, and realizes that her other friends have all found their places in the New System. She decides that she wishes to remain in the wild, free from surgery, and with David she will form the "New Special Circumstances", ensuring that nature is protected from mankind's excesses. Tally then goes to Dr. Cable's Grave to Cuss her out. She is mad at Shay for making her a special.