It centers around teenager Tally Youngblood who rebels against society's enforced conformity after her newfound friends Shay and David show her the downsides to becoming a Pretty. Written for young adults, Uglies deals with adolescent themes of both emotional and physical change, and dealing with the revelation that "some of what you’re taught isn’t true, your parents are flawed human beings, and the world isn’t constructed for your benefit." The book is the first installment in what was originally a trilogy, The Uglies series, which includes Pretties and Specials and, the companion novel, Extras.
The series takes place at least three hundred years in the future after the nature-killing Rusty civilization was destroyed. The survivors of the Rusty Crash agreed that the planet must never be wrecked again. Studying the "halo-effect" where attractive people seem to be treated better, are happier, and are more successful, they created a system where everyone at the age of sixteen is given the Pretty Operation, making them all super-beautiful. To make people unlikely to question the need for a completely different face and body, they conditioned everyone between the ages of twelve and sixteen to believe that they are "ugly".
Tally Youngblood is an Ugly who wants nothing more than to become Pretty and join her best friend Peris in New Pretty Town. But when she meets Shay, a girl who doesn't want to become Pretty, Tally's life becomes complicated. Shay tries to convince her new friend into running away with her to the mysterious Smoke, a community hidden in the wild, but Tally refuses. When Shay runs away anyway, the city's secret police force known as Special Circumstances interrogates Tally and blackmails her into following Shay to the Smoke with a tracker, promising to be there within hours once she activates it to rescue her and make her Pretty.
Tally Youngblood: The main protagonist of the book and the main trilogy. An Ugly who is forced to follow and betray her best friend Shay and the entire Smoke, she ends up having a relationship with David and rebels against Special Circumstances.
Shay: Tally's new friend who doesn't believe in becoming Pretty. She tries to convince Tally into running away with her to the Smoke and consequently draws Special Circumstances' eye to herself and Tally.
David: A teenager who was born in the Smoke and has grown up in the wild, he often meets with tricky Uglies in the Rusty Ruins and guides them to the Smoke
Az: Once a surgeon for the city, he and his wife, Maddy, fled the city and founded the Smoke. David is his son.
Croy: One of Shay's friends who ran away to the Smoke. He's a cautious Smokey who is suspicious of Tally.
Peris: Tally's best friend since they were littlies. Three months older than she is, he turns Pretty and moves to New Pretty Town, leaving Tally alone in Uglyville.
Dr. Cable: The head of Special Circumstances. Determined to destroy the Smoke, she blackmails Tally into following Shay to the Smoke as a spy, ordering her to activate a tracker once she's there that will lead Special Circumstances straight to it.