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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Extras Fizzles

After the adrenaline rush that was Specials, I couldn't wait to delve into Extras, the fourth book in Scott Westerfield's Uglies series. I really wanted to read more of Tally Youngblood's story. I had to know if Zane was really dead, if Tally and David fell in love again, and I needed to know exactly how the pair planned to change the world. So, it gave me a shock when I opened up Extras and found a whole new story unfolding ... with no Tally Youngblood in sight.

Extras takes place in Japan, a few years after Specials. It follows Aya Fuse, a 15-year-old Ugly who's after only one thing: fame. Her world is all about popularity - the more well-known you are, the more comforts you are given. Despite the fact that Aya has a famous brother, she still dangles at the bottom of the food chain, trying to shake the "obscurity of everything about her" (90). In order to boost her face count (which hovers at 451, 396 out of 1 million), she knows she needs a killer story to broadcast on her personal feed. Everyone in the city has live feeds going constantly, and no one pays the least attention to her little stories. Until now. Aya has finally found a story that's going to make everyone sit up and notice her.

No one really believes the Sly Girls exist. Except Aya. She's been tracking the ultra-secretive clique, determined to reveal their secrets for the city's feed-obsessed residents. Finally, she's been accepted into the group, but spying on them is not going to be as easy as she expected. For one thing, the Sly Girls hate publicity, and are naturally skeptical of a "kicker" like Aya. For another, the girls' crazy stunts are threatening her life span. Still, with the help of her hidden Hovercam, Aya is getting spectacular footage. It won't be long before her face count zips toward the 100s, ensuring her a life of parties and privilege.

One night, as the girls are risking their lives surfing on a train, they stumble upon a truly kicking story. Someone (or something) has hollowed out a mountain and filled it with huge metal cylinders. In a world where metal has to be salvaged from Rusty Ruins (buildings from our era), a cavern jammed with the stuff provides a mystery with a sinister edge. With the help of her brother and friends, Aya realizes just what the cylinders are - weapons. The weapon-makers scare the snot out of her, with their alien-like appearances. Although it means betraying the Sly Girls, Aya knows she has to kick this story to the world.

When the story goes live, all hell breaks loose. Aya's face count soars. She even gets a "ping" from the most famous woman in the world - Tally Youngblood. Expecting congratulations, Aya's shocked by the message, which commands her to run and hide until Special Circumstances arrives. Followed by the paparazzi cams that trail all celebrities, Aya finds hiding difficult, but with aliens chasing her, she has little choice. The arrival of Tally and her team only complicates things, as Aya and her friends soon find themselves being used as bait.

Although there's nothing more "famous-making" than hoverboarding with Tally and her team, Aya doesn't quite trust the Pretty with her cruel face and cold strategy. Worst of all, Aya's beginning to doubt her own story - Are the aliens really bent on destroying the world? Or is there something else going on here? She has to find out before Special Circumstances starts another war. Even if it means her reputation takes a dive-bomb, Aya knows she must find the truth - about the aliens, and about herself. If it requires defying the most famous person in history, so be it.

While Extras features the same taut plotting and fast action as the other books in this series, it veers off in its own direction. This may be refreshing for readers who are sick of Tally Youngblood, but for me, the change was too jarring. It confused me to start off the fourth book in a series with a stranger as narrator, a new setting, and a completely different kind of story. As much as I liked Aya Fuse, the only person I really wanted to read about was Tally. She does show up in the book, but only as a secondary character. This bugged me throughout the whole novel. In addition to that, I found the story somewhat generic (girl betrays friends to boost her own popularity) and contrived (Aya's first night with the Sly Girls just happens to be the one time they discover something really important?).

The biggest complaint I've had with this series is its preachiness. It hammers its themes home with loud, often obnoxious blows. I'm not against a story having a moral (all of them do, after all), but I like an author to preach with subtlety. From the first page of Extras, it's obvious what lesson Aya is going to learn (Fame isn't all it's cracked up to be) - the book follows a pretty predictable path to achieve this end. My friend Charlotte noted that she felt the books to be preachy about protecting the environment, which is true. They are, especially Extras. Again, it's a good message, one we all need to hear, but c'mon, readers can think for themselves.

I have other issues with the book, but I'll spare you the details. In spite of everything, I still found Extras enjoyable. In fact, if it was a standalone novel I probably would have rated it higher, but after Specials, Extras disappointing me. I'm not sure if it marks the end of the series or not - I hope not, because I can't bear to see a series with so much potential fizzle out like this.

Grade: C


  1. I liked Extras more than you seemed to, but I think that might have been at least partly because I read the trilogy all in one rush, and then had a break of about a year before I read Extras. I would have been lost had it jumped right back into the same storyline, but I remembered enough that Aya's world was still familiar. You're dead on with with the morality in this one being more black-and-white and a lot blunter, though.

  2. I think you were just disappointed because you expected something different. Extras was always something set apart from the Uglies trilogy. It was set in the same world, but never meant to be a continuation of Tally's story--not directly. I think for fans who knew this going in--and who had a little over a year to prepare for this while it was being written and edited and published--it wasn't a disappointment at all.

  3. I think you're right, Becky. I thought Extras was going to continue the storyline, so I was disappointed when it didn't. If I had known that it was "set apart from the Uglies trilogy," I probably would have liked it better.

    Do you guys know if there are going to be anymore books in the series? I couldn't find any news on Westerfield's website.

  4. I was about to say what Becky had said. This book is a companion as opposed to a continuation. I went in knowing this and still didn't like it as much as the original three though.

    As far as I can figure out, there isn't going to be any new stories from the Uglies world. There is going to be an encyclopedia of sorts though, explaining word meanings, more in depth about the fall of the Rusties, etc. I'm not sure I will buy it, but I will definately check it out.

  5. Hey Susan...I just wanted to say thank you for all the reassuring comments you've left regarding preemies. Any other stories or things you could fill me in on would be great. Also, if you would like to be added to our email update list, email me your address and I'll get you on there. Thanks again!

  6. I haven't read Extras yet, but my 13-year-old daughter has, and she felt the same as you, expecting it to be more about Tally. If I ever read it, I'm glad I will go into it knowing this--it sounds like those who did enjoyed it more.

  7. Yeah, I didn't pick up Extras for a long time because I thought it had nothing to do with Tally at all. So, I was like, well, I don't want the trilogy to be ruined so I won't read it. Then I found out that Tally does make an appearance in the book and so does David so I decided to read it. So, since I thought I would get Tally nothing, and then got Tally something; I liked to book a lot more than I would have if I thought it continued the trilogy. The ending makes it sound like there will be a sequel...who knows what will happen.

  8. You gave it a 'C'? How generous of you. I was so disappointed with this installment. The plot was disappointingly shallow, the new main character seemed to never learn her lesson and Tally isn't hardly in it at all. I only read the book in the hopes of seeing more of her development. Scott absolutely sacrificed his characters for exhaustingly magnified details in fight/action sequences. With pages with out dialect and extreme focus on how their 'toys' worked I was less than impressed. Oh and I never want to read hover-whatever again.


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