Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
My review of Uglies stands for Pretties, because they are pretty much the same book.
Scott Westerfeld further fleshes out his post-apocalyptic adolescent dystopia. We get to see New Pretty Town from "the inside," because Tally Youngblood is now pretty—and vapid, at least until a letter from her past self jogs her memory that there's more to life than flash tattoos, parties, and cliques. Yeah, sounds like high school.
So Tally embarks on a quest to free herself and several other pretties. They plot to escape from New Pretty Town and rejoin the New Smokies. But Special Circumstances is keeping a close eye on Tally. Dr. Cable, our old nemesis from Uglies, drops by and offers Tally a spot in the Specials, revealing how the entire society is designed to control the masses while filtering out intelligent, resourceful people like Tally for work in Special Circumstances. Sinister? Yes. Surprising? Not really.
The first chapters of the book would be interesting were it not for the fact that we already did in the first chapters of Uglies. Once again, Tally starts as a "brainwashed" member of society and struggles to find her own individuality and realize that she needs to rebel. If Tally has to start tabula rasa every book, this will be a very long series.
Also, there's a new love interest. He's better developed (er, character-wise, character development!) than David is. Still, my "love triangle" alarm went off in the second chapter or so, and I was wary for the rest of the book. I'm not sure why I'm so cynical about the relationship; perhaps it's just the speed with which it develops.
The other relationship of note is the one between Tally and Shay. Wait, sorry, no, it's exactly the same as the one Tally and Shay have in Uglies. First they are best friends; then Shay learns/recalls that Tally betrayed the Smoke and "stole" David from her; finally Shay undergoes an operation and returns to Tally, freshly-brainwashed and ready to be friends again. As in Uglies, these transitions are far from believable. Shay is much too quick to turn on Tally. Although I'm sure their feud could happen, what with them being teenage girls and all, but I find it hard to believe that they have one conversation and then Shay starts cutting herself….
That's a demonstration of the parallels between Uglies and Pretties and why I'm being so hard on this book. Successive books in a series need to raise the stakes. I can see that Westerfeld is trying to do so, but I'm not convinced he succeeds. It is possible to view the similarities between these books as an intentional parable against believing "the grass is greener" on the pretty side of the fence: pretties can have problems too. Except that only thinking pretties have problems. So this perspective begs the question, especially because Uglies spent so much time convincing us that being pretty was a bad idea.
Probably the best part of the book is the part that I hated when it was introduced. After escaping from New Pretty Town by hot air balloon, Tally and Zane are separated, and she lands in a "reservation" populated by pre-industrial tribes and separated from the surrounding region by a nerve-shock barrier. The tribes worship the pretties and Specials as gods. They are an anthropological experiment, and through studying them, scientists discovered which parts of the brain to damage to prevent violence and initiative.
My gut reaction was to wonder why this reservation was relevant to the plot. Westerfeld quickly cleared that up, however, and soon I gained even more respect for this world that he's created. The reservation adds another level to the wrongness of this dystopia. So I was disappointed when Tally left, and I really wish we had gotten to see more of it.
Of course, once Tally does escape, she's not long for freedom. Soon enough she's back in the hands of Special Circumstances, and this time she won't be made into a pretty . . . she gets to be a Special. While I love watching Tally's transforming from ugly to pretty to Special, the reasons for those transformations are contrived. Once again, Pretties has a narrative that is rough around the edges.
My evaluation of Pretties is almost exactly the same as Uglies—and that disappoints me. There is little net change between the end of Uglies and the end of Pretties: the Smoke is once again dispersed, Tally is once again in the hands of Special Circumstances, Shay has preceded Tally under the knife, and Tally's about to be transformed to the next level of surgical oddity. We've been here, done this. Time to take it to the next level, please.