Review: Specials

Specials (Uglies, #3)Specials by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of Tally Youngblood is over. At least, the Extras chapters that were included at the end of this book seemed to suggest it was a kind of epilogue to the Tally Trilogy.

I didn’t like this book as much as the the first two. The thing is, I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Westerfield certainly writes great chapter-ending cliffhangers. This is probably one of the fastest completion times of any books I’ve read this year. It pulled me in enough that I spent the last few nights reading for half an hour before passing out asleep. Yet, as a whole it didn’t pull me in. My pop-psychology studies have warned me that trying to put a finger on why you like or dislike something tends to end up with your brain making up a plausible answer that isn’t necessarily the right answer. But, I guess if I had to put my finger on it it’s that some of the wins like (view spoiler) felt a little unearned after all the animosity between them. The book, for all its setup (especially if you include Pretties) seems a little rushed at the end.

That said, there was a lot to recommend about this book. More than the other two books, it really does a great job of making the case that there is no perfect society. We often read these dystopic books in which it’s implied that everything will be awesome if society can lift the yoke and become like us. And that ignores that we’ve got a lot of bad stuff going on even among our time of great personal freedom. Westerfield shows both the positive and negative aspects of Tally’s world, our world, and the potential new world. In fact, Tally’s final chapter is a thesis about still needing some checks on freedom.

In world building, it’s fun to see Westerfield make a nod to another SF staple – grey goo. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a possible human-made destructive scenario where we make self-replicating nano-machines that go awry and replicate over the entire world, consuming it all for the resources to replicate. Even though it’s mention in the other two books, this book also really brought home the fact that the world has reverted to city-states in the sense of Ancient Greece.

In other random things, while Shay and Tally fail the Bechdel Test (the source of all their friction is conflict over a boy), I did think it work to convey how at that age (they’re 16 – we’ll return to that later) relationships with those you’re attracted to can destroy your platonic relationships. Speaking of relationships, I thought the Tally/Zane arc was a good, if heightened, example of caring for someone who had once had all their faculties, but was now a little more frail. (Think of someone going through alzheimer’s or getting into a paralyzing accident) I also enjoyed the interesting body modifications we see late in the book.

In things I wasn’t quite a fan of, there was the cutting. I was a pretty straight-laced kid. No drugs or booze or cutting. I was a fair deal more religious then so most of my internal drama came from the tug of war of wanting to mess around with girls and finding a way to square that with the man upstairs. So I don’t know what goes through the mind of those who are or have been cutters. (or even if it’s offensive or demeaning to put their mental state into such a trivial word – cutter) But for a YA book I was left unsure of how I felt about Tally getting into a higher mind state from her cutting. I’m not into censorship. And I think kids and teens tend to be smarter about things than we give them credit. But it made me feel weird. Maybe that’s just an artifact of being older/being a parent. The other thing that was slightly odd was that Tally’s naked a lot in the latter half of this book. And that probably wouldn’t have been as squicky had the book not constantly reminded me that she was 16. So…yeah…..

But talking about 16, I think that was one thing that threw me off on this trilogy. Tally does and goes through a LOT and I think only a year or so has passed. When she has that thought somewhere near the end it through me for a bit of a loop. So she went from the uglyville to the smoke prettytown to specials in the span of a year? Plus all the stuff that’s happened (that I don’t want to spoil) in the cities since the second book. It seems a bit much.

Overall, I think it was a good ending to Tally’s story. She has some good personal growth. The world is different, but it’s not like suddenly everything’s rainbows and unicorns. It’s not my favorite ending to a trilogy, but it’s not bad and I’m glad I went on that hoverboard ride.

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