Like everyone else, Shay has been an Ugly—a teenager full of imperfections, but not old enough for the surgery that everyone gets at sixteen to turn them into perfect Pretties. Shay didn’t want that surgery, so she ran away to join a band of outsiders called the Smoke. Her friend Tally followed her, and then . . . something happened. Shay can’t remember it that well. There’s a lot she doesn’t remember well since she was brought in and given the Pretty surgery.
On the other hand, life in New Pretty Town, the hard-partying home of the young and newly gorgeous, is awesome. Shay joins up with her old friends, all Pretties now, and they’re having a blast, especially since Tally arrived. So why does Shay keep having troubling dreams? It’s even more troubling when she starts remembering flashes of what happened before the surgery. Shay needs to know what happened to the Smoke, both for herself and for the others who lost something they can’t remember. Even if getting at those memories is painful—and learning the truth could put them all in danger.
Uglies, vol. 2: Cutters is both a sequel and a companion novel. The original Uglies books by Scott Westerfeld — Uglies, Pretties, and Specials — are traditional text novels. They focus on Tally, with Shay serving as an interesting side character. The Uglies graphic novel series (this is the second volume, after Uglies: Shay’s Story) follows Shay through the same events. I have read the original trilogy, which gave me enough context to understand Uglies, vol. 2: Cutters. Without that context, and not having read Shay’s Story, I might have been confused by the plot and by the elaborate world, which includes futuristic technology and made-up slang. I expect, however, that most readers who seek out these graphic novels will already be familiar with the popular Uglies trilogy.
The art combines a manga feel with a more American-cartoon style. Characters feature oversized eyes and artfully swirling hair, but they also have more varied face shapes and more pronounced, less-stylized noses and lips than are common in manga. Also unlike manga, the book uses various shades of solid gray to color and shade the art — no fancy screentones here. The outfits and the scenery of New Pretty Town are lush, verging on alien; a perfect fit for the dreamy, anything-goes world of the Pretties. The artist really gets to show off with Shay’s dreams, in which princesses dance, beasts attack, and a dutiful ranger tries to stop her forest from burning.
The characters undergo frequent style updates. Pretties have access to infinite custom-made outfits and outlandish cosmetic surgeries, and most characters play around with both. Between that and the fact that many have counterparts in Shay’s dreams, and that most have nicknames as well as their real names, it can sometimes be tough keeping track of who is whom. With some attention, though, it is clear enough.
Shay’s relationship with Tally is complicated and only gets more so as Shay’s memories return. This, in turn, creates difficulties with Shay’s boyfriend, who doesn’t understand her concern about Tally and Tally’s boyfriend, Zane. Though romance and relationships are of critical importance to the characters, they aren’t shown going any farther physically than kissing.
Cutters packs a lot of action, though little conventional violence. What it does have is cutting. Shay discovers that pain helps her and her boyfriend break through the “pretty-minded” fog and rediscover their memories. She starts a clique, the Cutters, discontented Pretties who cut themselves to focus their minds and break out of the docile state they were left in by the Pretty surgery. They don’t enjoy hurting themselves for its own sake, but glory in the awareness it brings them. The Cutters are present in the book Pretties, but less explored than here, since that book follows Tally and the Cutters are really Shay’s thing.
Shay’s point of view is absent from the Uglies novels, but she is an active, interesting character, often in conflict with Tally. Fans of the original series will find Cutters an interesting new perspective on the world of Uglies.