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Specials

by Scott Westerfeld

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Uglies (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,680203988 (3.78)186
After being captured and surgically transformed into a "special," teenaged Tally Youngblood, now a government agent programmed to protect society from outside threats, is ordered to eliminate the rebel colony New Smoke, Tally's former home.
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» See also 186 mentions

English (200)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (202)
Showing 1-5 of 200 (next | show all)
Beware: this review will necessarily include spoilers for Uglies and Pretties, the other books in this trilogy.

With the New Smoke's influence and reach growing, Special Circumstances are more active than ever. And the Cutters, a new group of particularly icy Specials under Shay's leadership, intend to put a halt to their power before things go to far. Tally loves being Special, but will her new heightened senses and abilities prove enough to stop the Smokies from changing the world for good?

I was hoping for big things from Specials. Uglies and Pretties both struck me as good dystopian adventure novels, but I felt as though they were building towards a spectacular conclusion, which would tie together all of the plot threads and character changes and leave me feeling satisfied and wowed. Unfortunately, that wasn't my experience and, instead, I'm left feeling quite apathetic towards the entire series.

I love the concept of Tally belonging to a different group in each of the books. The difficulty is that, in practice, its a technique that can alienate the reader. I had grown to enjoy her as a protagonist by the end of Pretties, but in Specials I found her even less likeable than in Uglies. In Specials, Westerfeld asks his readers to identify and empathise with a character who is, essentially, a villain. This can work brilliantly when the villain in question is charismatic, mysterious or multi-faceted, but it is here where Tally falls short. She is little more than a puppet.

In contrast, Shay is an interesting character. I remain unconvinced by her personality progression in the trilogy but, here at least, she proves herself the least-offensive of Westerfeld's female characters. In a series where the protagonist merely reacts to situations (usually under the guidance of a male partner or friend), Shay initiates. However, Shay is the only supporting character who receives any real development in Specials. It may have been intentional on Westerfeld's behalf, to show an emotional distance that differentiates the Specials, but it meant that an important character death felt rushed and emotionally dull and the conclusion felt unsupported.

Another thing I found lacking in Specials was a counter to the destructive actions that were linked to mental acuity here and in the previous books. The Cutters cut themselves to clear their minds; the Crims deprived themselves of food. I felt that Westerfeld raised important issues, then failed to do anything valuable with them, so that I was left viewing them more as an attempt to be daring than a careful commentary on the challenges that real teens face.

I found the ending of the series particularly dissatisfying. It didn't ring true to me as a realistic outcome and it felt unsupported by both what Specials showed of Tally's nature and the Uglies universe as a whole. Instead of being left wishing for more, I confirmed that I had no further interest in reading about this world and the characters within it.

Specials is not a bad book, by any means, but I found it personally unsatisfying. As a stand-alone, I think it would make a good adventure yarn. As a conclusion to a trilogy, however, I found it extremely wanting. There are some great action sequences in here and some clever ideas about a dystopian future that has definite echoes of today's existence. But I wanted more.
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
If you loose everything and become the thing that everyone fears, are you capable of relearning what it means to be you, and will those who once one your side be patient enough to forget the worse that you've become. ( )
  Sovranty | Jun 21, 2020 |
On the reread, I liked this book better than the one that came before it. This may be due to improvements such as – less time devoted to camping in the woods, and not just rehashing the first book.

It still didn't match up to my fond memories of it.

Overall, I don't think the plot of the entire trilogy made much sense. It all hinges on some connection between brain structure and chemistry that I don't think Westerfeld properly worked out himself. On the one hand, Tally can "think her way out of" being a bubbleheaded pretty, and the same with being a special; but on the other hand, some mysterious chemical "cure" changes people's brain chemistry such that they break with the habits of a lifetime (or at least the part since their pretty operations)... and stage an entire continent-wide revolution.

The "cure" is explained even less well than in the last book, too; at least that time there was something about "lesions" making people bubbleheaded, that "nanos" can eat to cure the affliction. Okay. But then in this book, we learn that Tally's experience of thinking her way out of bubbleheadedness has inspired Maddy to change her cure design. So what does it even do now?! If Maddy's been inspired to let people think their way out of their brain configuration, that makes it sound like her new "cure" is just a placebo. But it's clearly not, because countless specials receive a cure against their will that changes the way they think... against their will.

So, I really don't understand what we were meant to take away about brain structures and personality and so on there. It just seemed inconsistent and considering it's what the entire plot revolves around...

There were other plot holes, too. For instance, I do not believe that the Crims would be recruited to this elite, secretive force known as Special Circumstances and never seem to be under any kind of supervision of any kind, ever. They're just free agents doing their own thing, and "their own thing" turns out to involve destroying the city's armoury in a massive chemical disaster. Seriously? Dr Cable didn't think to monitor her pet projects a little better? Considering the way the trilogy depicts her as this master manipulator who's always three steps ahead of everyone else, this is perplexing.

And her demise, as I suggested, is pathetic.

Then the book seems very muddled in the message it's trying to send about human nature. The book specifically declares that human nature is to be selfish, and it suggests that human nature is to pursue endless growth until the destruction of the world. "Rusty civilisation" (our civilisation) serves as a warning throughout the series of the dangers of endless, unsustainable growth, but then in this book it seems that the first thing humanity does when in possession of their own minds is resort to environmental destruction. Which is why the last two pages is about how Tally and David are going to become the "new special circumstances", and try to stop that. But again... seriously? Two people are going to single-handedly save the environment of an entire continent? Sure, that is so believable.

And as well, it ends up giving the impression that the very regime Tally just overthrew had the right idea – human nature is to slowly commit mass suicide, so you'd better keep them pacified for their own good. I think when I first read the series, I loved the apparent moral dilemma. Now, I'm not so sure.

Another seeming contradiction that crops up is the glorification of cutting, after the first book spent so much time preaching about how horrible all our modern stress over body image is. Like... I don't understand why you would preach and preach about body image and how everyone should feel comfortable in their own skins, but then glorify cutting. They just seem like two sides of the same coin (or two sides of the same dice... I'm sure there are lots of similar issues), and considering this trilogy seems to aspire to impart a moral lesson to pre-teen, or perhaps young teenage readers, it doesn't seem very good at it.

In the end, I am really undecided as to whether to give this two stars or three. I did like this book better than the previous one (which I rated two), mostly for reasons of pace and structure, which were much improved. But then the plot made a lot less sense, so ratings-wise I think that evens out. It's a reasonably fun read, just kind of nonsensical.

I'm still planning to read the "bonus" book, Extras, at some point in the near future; I didn't actually read that one when it first came out so it'll be something new, at least! And hopefully an improvement, although, maybe I won't expect too much from it. ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
Specials is the third book in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy. In this book, Tally and her best friend, Shay, have been transformed into Specials and made a new division of Special Circumstances called Cutters. This is a task force intended to hunt down and eradicate the New Smoke - their former friends. But try as she might, Tally can't completely get rid of her fondness and love for the people in New Smoke or their cause. So she is left to decide: embrace her new life as a Special and kill the New Smoke people or find away to take down the regime in charge of her City and start a new way of life for everybody.


I keep expecting the novelty of these books to wear off but it never does. These books are well written, fast paced and intriguing. Tally is a girl that is easy to identify with and to want to be. I had seen these books around the bookstores for a long time and thought they looked good but I never made that leap to picking them up and reading them. Thanks to the Books on the Nighstand reading challenge and the Bart's Bookshelf reading challenge for giving me the incentive to finally pick them up and read them. I'm glad I did. ( )
  melrailey | Apr 7, 2020 |
The tone of these books gets a little darker here...Tally definitely doesn't have an easy time of it.

More than ever, Tally is changing from the inside. Now a ruthless Special, she and the other perfectly-designed hunters under Dr. Cable's direction are off in search of the Smoke. Rumor has it that the Smokies are up to something huge, something that may threaten the structure of the cities that Tally is now sworn to protect.

But inside, Tally is still at war with her mind. She still loves Zane, but his growing sickness and disapproval of the Specials is pushing her away from him. And she still struggles with memories of the time she fought the will of Special Circumstances and tried to throw off the oppression of the Uglies/Pretties/Specials hierarchy.

In the end, it will depend on whether or not Tally will find the strength to rewire herself one more time, without the aid of nanos or friends. So she and Shay will attempt one last mission, one that may kill them both, or end the tyrannical reign of the Specials forever.

It is a sad, painful, twisting journey to follow Tally, and my spirits definitely took a beating. But all does not end badly, and there is indeed hope for everyone by the weary but satisfying ending of this book. ( )
  booksong | Mar 18, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 200 (next | show all)
Specials is part parable of life as an adolescent struggling to define your identity in a conformist world; part dark and unflinching look at the very real mental disorders that this impossible circumstance visits upon many young people.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (May 8, 2006)
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Scott Westerfeldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordon, RussellCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaskoll, YaffaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montbertrand, CarineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pyle, HowardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Part I: Being Special

By plucking her petals you do

not gather the beauty of the flower.

- Rabindranath Tagore, "Stray Birds"
Dedication
To all the fans who've written me about this series. Thanks for telling me what was right, what was wrong, and which bits made you throw the book across the room. (You know who you are.)
First words
The six hoverboards slipped among the trees with the lightning grace of playing cards thrown flat and spinning.
Quotations
Part II: Tracking Zane

When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,

There arises the recognition of ugliness.

When they all know the good as good,

There arises the recognition of evil.

- Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching
Part III: Unmaking War

One faces the future with one's past.

- Pearl S. Buck
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The words have sent chills down Tally's spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor -- frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally's never been ordinary.
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