Book Reviews: Uglies and Salvation of a Saint

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

Here is yet another young adult dystopian novel, the beginning of a series. I found the basic concept to be interesting and imaginative: all humans go under the knife at 16 to make them beautiful and perfect. The reasoning is if everyone looks perfect, there will be no discrimination against people who look different (although skin colour is never actually mentioned, I think it is assumed that race is a  non-issue in this society.)

The downside is the operations turn everyone into helpless twits who care for nothing but partying, but this is the goal of every child and worth it to be beautiful.

The story follows 15-year-old Tally as she waits to become a Pretty. A new friendship opens her eyes to a larger world outside of the sheltered confines she grew up in, causing her to rethink everything she knows about the life she wants. When she is blackmailed into betraying a group of people who reject the principle of beauty, she will do everything in her power to make things right.

Okay, against my initial judgment, I ended up really liking this book. Like I said, the concept is really interesting. I started to think how I would feel about this book when I was 15, versus my advanced actual age. The idea that all your imperfections would be burnished away at 16 is a heady one – I mean, asides from a few genetic freaks, we’re all kind of funny looking at 15, right? It’s only later on that we learn to love our flaws, for the most part.

I liked how Tally learned to fall in love with an “Ugly” and accept being loved as her flawed self, and not a perfectly generic version. The theme is great for teens – our differences make us beautiful, and also worthy. There’s also an underlining theme about how the new pretty society is totally sustainable, therefore superior to the old humans (us) who fucked up the planet. This isn’t really explored in depth, but I hope it surfaces in later books. If the world is better, and prettier, is it worth what we pay to get there?

Salvation of a Saint, by Keigo Higashino

This book could not be more different from Uglies, both in style and content. A mystery by Japanese writer Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint is tightly-controlled, to the point of being dispassionate.

The Toyko police are working to solve an impossible murder, where a man was poisoned while alone at his home. One thing I liked about this structured mystery is every part of it focused solely on the puzzle they are trying to solve. It doesn’t delve into the fucked-up lives of the detectives, as they inevitably do in most criminal thrillers. We don’t look at their love lives or love affairs with the bottle – they seem as dispassionate as the book itself, focused only on the task at hand. And this is specifically not a thriller – there are no hold-your-breath-cliffhanger-dangers at hand, only the intellectual puzzle.

What did really distract me was the rampant sexism throughout the novel, which is nearly laughable. I don’t know much about Japanese culture, so I don’t know how close this is to real life, but it seems that women very much do not hold positions of power. But Higashino deliberately brings attention to this, with a young strong female police officer who is both ballsy and intelligent. Everyone else’s reaction to her is pretty much: “But HOW can she have a good idea? She is a GIRL! Girls have silly intuition that we laugh at.” I guess I appreciate Higashino included such a strong female character, who goes out of her way to solve the murder, which revolves around some smart passive-aggressive women as well.

One part that really intrigued me about the storyline is the reader is told at the beginning who committed the murder, then spends most of the rest proving how it was impossible for the murderer to have done it. When the trick is revealed, I had no idea. I wonder how many people would have figured it out – it was implausible, but it was always introduced as implausible, so that was okay. It was certainly an enjoyable read, but not the novel I was staying up late trying to finish – it wasn’t that gripping.

Word of the day:

Mediagenic: having qualities or characteristics that are especially appealing or attractive when presented in the mass media: a mediagenic politician.

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