Westerfeld, Scott. 2006. Specials.
Specials finishes the series strong. [Warning: While I will not include spoilers for the book, Specials, I really can't avoid giving away some plot elements of the middle book, Pretties. So if you haven't read Pretties but are planning on it at some point, you might want to hold off on reading this review of Specials.] While I loved Uglies, I was less enthused with Pretties. But with Specials, I'm back into the story and loving it. Tally and Shay. It always comes down to the conflict between Tally and Shay. First, they're friends. Then they're enemies. Then they make peace. Then they get mad. Then they get even. Then all is well. All is well until it isn't. It's a very topsy turvy friendship. A complicated relationship. Is it always healthy? No. But the uncertainy is almost always a constant so it is a familiar comfort as well.
The first book, Uglies, addresses the issue of identity. Explores how you see yourself. How you know yourself. The entire series is about that really. In the first book, we've got Tally identifying herself with the "ugly" label she's been brought up in believing. In the second book, we've got Tally identifying with the "pretty" label she's been surgically altered to believe. And in the third book, well, she identifies herself with the "special" label. Again another label put on her by society. She's been surgically altered. She's been brainwashed. She's been trained. At every step in her development there has been someone--an authority figure--telling how to think, what to think, even when to think. And she's really had no way of breaking free of that mindset. That control. Even when she thinks she's almost there...something always happens so she ends up back under someone else's control.
Society putting labels on people. Society trying to tell people how to think and how to behave. Not so farfetched is it? Conformity and nonconformity are not new issues in literature. Gone With The Wind is all about one wild woman who refuses to conform to her society's definitions and rules of ladyhood. The Awakening. Anna Karenina. And countless others I could list if I took the time. Most dystopic fiction in fact comes down to this issue of conformity.
But it goes above and beyond conformity. The books also address the issue of peer pressure and cliques. Individuals vs. groups. Can a person be happy--be content--only if they're part of a group? Do you have be part of a certain group to feel loved? valued? wanted? Is it more important to fit in and be a part of the gang--the group--than it is to be yourself? Is thinking collectively good or bad? What are the pros and cons of such close fellowship? Is this a problem where teens are concerned? Or is this a lifelong issue?
In Specials, Tally has to question and challenge everything. But mostly she has to challenge and question herself. You see, sometimes you're your own worst enemy. Tally's mind is exactly that. She's got to battle herself--battle her past--and come to some sort of decision about who she is and what she wants.
As a reader, I feel you have to question Tally. These three books are told from Tally's point of view. But her "self" changes moment by moment...week by week...month by month at times. The three books follow the course of one year, but at times it feels like Tally has been at least four or five different "selves." Each "self" feels authentic to Tally at the time. But each "self" has been manipulated in some way or other. How can you discern what's real or not real in a circumstance like that. I think in some ways, Tally can be an unreliable narrator. The reader definitely knows more than she does at times. For example, I doubt the reader ever feels that Special Circumstances (led by Dr. Cable) are the good guys and that David and the Smokies are the villains.
Is Tally likeable? Not always. Sometimes I got very frustrated with her. But no matter what I always was wanting the best for her. I wanted her to have a happy ending. Is Shay likeable? Not really. Sometimes she's a really strong, really good character. Other times, she's very catty. Very angry. Out for revenge. She just seems really spiteful at times. More so than Tally ever does. But then again, it all comes down to point of view. If the books were from Shay's point of view, I have no doubt she'd be painted as the sympathetic one while Tally would be seen as the one who did this, that, and the other to ruin Shay's life.
Character development. The strongest (most well developed) characters we have are Shay and Tally. We've got a lot of minor characters. Fausto. Croy. Peris. Dr. Cable. Matty. But the love interests--Zane and David--aren't that strong in my opinion. David rules the first book. He's the "hero" if you will. The one we're supposed to swoon for and adore. And Zane, well, the second book is his territory. He's the pretty one. The one that Tally is in love with in the moment. He's the current boy toy. But the third book, well, it's hard to say. David is back. Zane makes his appearance. But things have changed. Dramatically changed. I can't really say more without spoiling the third book, but let's just say that Tally's feelings for both have changed. And that is something she has to struggle with and battle as well. I think some people are satisfied with the ending of Specials. And I know some people aren't. I'm undecided. Still. Even after the second read I still can't make up my mind when it comes to this triangle.
But I definitely enjoyed it. And I do love the series as a whole.
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