Review: Uglies: Shay’s Story

Uglies: Shay’s Story
Buy at Powell’s

I absolutely love Scott Westerfeld‘s Uglies trilogy. It is actually one of my favorite dystopian stories, actually. The general premise works — who, as an awkward adolescent, wouldn’t want to be turned gorgeous and get to party all the time?

While Westerfeld’s ideas aren’t necessarily the most innovative, he had a fresh and relevant take on them, and ultimately, the books are a beautiful metaphor for growing up and finding (and accepting) your own power.

While I basically knew a comics adaptation of them was inevitable, like any beloved material, I approached the announcement of it with some skepticism. Two things, though, reassured me — that Devin Grayson would be leading the adaptation and that it was going to be told from Shay’s perspective (who was the best friend/rival of the main character, Tally). That it wasn’t going to be a straight retelling made it more intriguing to me.

The manga-esque art by Steven Cummings did not, though. I don’t think manga-style art was a bad choice for this story — in a lot of ways I think it suits it — but the early images I saw just felt a little generic.

I’m giving all of this as background to say: I went into reading this with quite a lot of baggage. Uglies: Shay’s Story (Del Rey, 2012) had a lot to live up to and a lot to prove.

And it did both things. Mostly.

If the title didn’t tip you off, without a doubt, this is Shay’s story. I like that this adaptation shows things that were only mentioned in the novel. Shay’s motivations are much clearer, and at least this early in the story, she’s much bolder and more savvy than Tally. Even though much is made about Shay not wanting to get the surgery that will turn her “pretty,” it feels in character. Shay is thoughtful and willing to face life, even if it means hardship. She took a while to get there, but her willingness to not take things at face-value makes her intriguing.

While I was never anti-Shay — she is nearly as important to the trilogy as Tally is — I think I’m going to like seeing her journey and her perspective on these events.

Grayson and Westerfeld do justice to Shay’ story while still making it a compatible companion to the Uglies novel. I was happy that this didn’t feel at all redundant.

All those things are great. But I do have complaints.

I enjoy the early scenes with Shay, certainly, as she and her friends play tricks on the Pretties and learn about the people who’ve set up their own society outside the cities. I also like that the sinister Special Circumstances is much more present from the very beginning. However, these parts take up the bulk of the graphic novel and I feel like Shay’s experiences out in the Smoke are kind of shortchanged. The conflict between her and Tally also feels rushed toward the end, almost as if the page count was quickly approaching and the story needed to be wrapped up.

While Cummings’ art grew on me and he certainly has a dynamic eye for page layouts and action — the hoverboard scenes are fun and full of movement — I feel like the character design suffered. No one really looked distinctive to me and I don’t think there was enough differentiation between the pre-operation characters and the post-operation characters. Yes, I get that the “uglies” aren’t necessarily ugly, but everyone in this book was just a little too good-looking for it to work. With a story that’s so much about appearances, this was distracting.

Still, I’d like to continue following Shay through the next two books. And I realize I’m due to read the Uglies trilogy again.

Interior art taken from Scott Westerfeld’s blog.

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