I had a vague idea going into this book about the setting in which the “Uglies” books take place, some kind of future world where kids are somehow turned Pretty when they become 16 years old. Otherwise though, I had very little in the form of expectations going into Shay’s Story.
Shay is a girl about to turn 16 years old, and beginning to wonder if she really wants to undergo the change at all. She gets mixed up with a group of pranksters who like to play tricks on the Pretties. The Pretties themselves live in a separate city from the Uglies, and though there’s supposed to be no interaction, the Uglies can sneak into the other city. Mostly what they find there though are what appears to be rather vapid people who seem very generic and detached from life.
Shay’s friends eventually discover a ruined city from some more archaic time, and there they meet a boy named David who begins to train them survival skills, simple things like lighting a campfire and catching and cooking food. These are things that are taken for granted in their society – but they soon learn that there is another option, a society that has separated itself from the Uglies/Pretties of the world and if they want to join that group at The Smoke, they must devote themselves to these skills.
Ultimately Shay is left behind when her friends leave to join this other society, which is when the reader is introduced to the start of the prose novel, Tally. She and Shay become friends, but Tally is too devoted to becoming a Pretty to join Shay when she finally decides to leave. At The Smoke Shay is reunited with David, a boy she has begun to have feelings for, but is soon put into an awkward love-triangle when Tally follows close behind and develops feelings for the same guy.
It’s really in the section of the book dealing with Tally that things don’t work too well for Shay’s Story. I’m sure that some of it is because this story is hampered by what’s already been told in the Uglies prose novel. Since I’m judging this purely on Shay’s Story though, I’ll admit that I just didn’t understand Tally at all. Shay becomes best friends with her, but I’m not sure why – it’s not really explained and the reader is just sort of told that it has happened. Then Tally, who seemed uninterested in going to The Smoke, just as suddenly shows up – and essentially steals Shay’s boyfriend. And then with the shock ending, where the authorities from “normal” society show up to shut down The Smoke, it makes it look to me like Tally was responsible for the betrayal. So she doesn’t really come out looking too good in this book.
On the other hand, I found Shay to be a very compelling character. She starts as kind of a typical rebellious teen, but begins to think about the bigger things in life like who she really is and who she wants to be. I enjoyed seeing her grow, and frankly I suspect her moving beyond a childhood crush will be a great evolution for her over this series. The ending, not just being about the betrayal (which isn’t resolved), leaves Shay’s character in such an intriguing position that I can’t help but be excited to see where the story goes in book 2.
There were a few confusing moments for me, perhaps because of the art and perhaps because of the story – I didn’t really understand the nature of the crash gloves (which seem able to keep everyone from killing themselves when riding hoverboards), and there’s a scene where Shay compares her “blisters” to Tally’s – but she talks about how “gifts” are intentional at The Smoke at the same time… which was just confusing to me. Were those blisters or some disease? Shay talked about David having given gloves to Tally, but I could never figure out the connection.
Despite those niggling issues though (and even the Tally issues I had with the book I’d consider small in the greater whole), I wound up reading the book in one sitting, which is a rare thing for me these days even when dealing with Graphic Novels. The book has got a substantial page count too – upwards of 160 – so it’s no slacker in that area. But really I was so enthralled and engaged that I just didn’t want to stop reading until I came to the end. If the intention with a graphic novel version was to reach out to new readers then in this case it was a success, I look forward to continuing to learn about Shay and her world in future editions of the story.