UgliesUglies "plays on adolescent changes, both physical and emotional." The book and the series as a whole addresses the issues of conformity, self-worth, body image, and individuality, as well as the impact of strong peer pressure. Modern environmental issues also underlie much of the book's discussion of the global past. Under the surface, Uglies speaks of high profile government conspiracies and the danger of trusting the omnipresent Big Brother. While the underlying story condemns war and all the side effects thereof, the true thrust of the story proves that individual freedoms are far more important than the need for uniformity and the elimination of personal will.
The Uglies series is set in the future, after current civilization has been destroyed by a type of bacteria, causing chaos. The survivors of this disaster established small cities, each of which is independently governed, with limited traveling. At the age of sixteen, everyone undergoes an operation which turns them into "pretties". Later operations follow to show signs of increasing age while maintaining this beauty. Before they receive the operation, children newborn to 11 are called "littlies", and children 12 to 15 are called "uglies", and are kept separated from their older friends.
The main protagonist of the trilogy. Nicknamed "Squint" because of her eyes. Ends up having a relationship with David.
Eventually becomes Tally's best friend after Tally meets her on the way back from a visit in New Pretty Town. Shay is the main reason Tally becomes involved with the Smokies. She is also called "Skinny" because of her weight. Shay eventually turns pretty after being captured in the invasion of the Smoke.
Shay's ugly friend that lives in the Smoke. He is the son of Maddy and Az. He is in a relationship with Shay early on, but gradually falls in love with Tally.
David's mother. She is a surgeon that turns Uglies into Pretties, along with her husband, Az, before they leave and form the Smoke.
David's father. Before the events of the book, he is a surgeon that turns Uglies into Pretties. He is captured and killed during an operation led by Dr. Cable.
One of Shay's friends who lives at the Smoke.
Tally's best friend since they were littlies. As an ugly he is also called "Nose". He is a pretty during the events of the book.
Head of Special Circumstances. She is the person who sends Tally out as a spy to the Smoke. Dr. Cable is responsible for the downfall of the Smoke.
Tally Youngblood, a fifteen year old, sneaks out into New Pretty Town to visit her friend Peris, who had recently been turned pretty. She manages to find him at a party, but after talking to him briefly, Tally realizes her former best friend is not interested in her until she undergoes the operation and turns pretty (at age 16), and joins him in New Pretty Town. Soon people begin to notice that Tally is not pretty, and should not be at the party. So, in order to escape, Tally steals a bungee jacket and jumps off of the party tower. Then she runs until she reaches the river separating New Pretty Town from Uglyville. There she meets Shay, an ugly girl who Tally at first mistakes for a pretty. Shay, like Tally, sometimes sneaks into New Pretty Town, but unlike Tally, Shay uses a hoverboard to get across the river, and rides simply for the fun of riding a hoverboard. After finding out that they both have birthdays around the same time, Tally and Shay become best friends. Shay teaches Tally to hoverboard, and takes her out of the city to the nearby Rusty Ruins. Gradually, Tally realizes that Shay does not want to become a pretty, which culminates in Shay running away from the city shortly before her birthday, leaving Tally a cryptic note with instructions on how to follow her.
Although Tally is upset by Shay's disappearance, she still plans on becoming a pretty. However, on the day of her operation, she is taken to meet Dr. Cable, head of Special Circumstances, a group of cruel-looking pretties who secure the city. They tell her that she will not be allowed to become pretty unless she follows after Shay and lets the Specials track her to the Smoke - a group of runaway Uglies. Hesitatingly, Tally agrees, and sets off on a long journey across the wilderness. After many days of travelling, during which Tally faces several life-threatening situations, she makes it to the Smoke.
In the Smoke, Tally is initially horrified by the primitive way of life, but gradually begins to see the benefits of freedom, and learns to enjoy the rough lifestyle. She does not activate the tracking beacon Dr. Cable gave her, although she keeps it while deliberating whether to stay or return to the City. Tally begins to fall in love with David, the son of the founders of the Smoke. He was born outside the cities. Meeting David's parents, she learns that a part of the pretty operation creates brain lesions, which force all pretties to be happy and compliant. Between this, and her feelings for David, she decides to destroy the tracking beacon.
Unfortunately, Tally accidentally activates the tracker when she tries to destroy it, and the Smoke is invaded by Special Circumstances, who take all the uglies back to their home cities. Tally only just escapes, and with David, who was outside the Smoke when the attack began, she makes her way back to the city to free her friends and David's parents. In a daring raid on Special Circumstances headquarters, they rescue the Smokies from Tally's city. However, they are horrified to discover that Shay has already been made pretty, and that David's father Az was killed in an experimental procedure to make him forget the lesions.
David's mother, Maddy, explains that she has fabricated a cure for the lesions, but refuses to use it on Shay without her consent. Realizing the only sensible course of action, Tally confesses to her betrayal of the Smoke, shocking the other Smokies. She then gives full consent to taking the cure, and surrenders to the city to become pretty.