Book Review: “Specials” by Scott Westerfeld

Specials was originally the final book in the Uglies series but a year later another book came out. And in 2018 a continuation was announced and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’ll talk about that when I review the fourth book. Prepare for spoilers for Pretties.

“It didn’t matter what you looked like. It was how you carried yourself, how you saw yourself. Strength and reflexes were only part of it—Shay simply knew that she was special, and so she was. Everyone else was just wallpaper,”

Specials starts off with a similar vibe to how Pretties began. Once again Tally Youngblood has forgotten things, and once again Tally Youngblood is different. In the beginning of every book so far she’s unaware of the governments plots, totally trusting in it and different then she ever had been before. In this case Tally Youngblood is no longer a Pretty, now she’s a Special, only an extra special Special. She’s part of a branch of government officials called Special Circumstances, she’s a Cutter and she works under her best friend Shay. She thinks that Shay had to pull strings to get her to become a Special and that she’s barely special enough to be a part of the team and she’s working hard to be worthy of her new position of power, which is so rough to read knowing everything she’s done.

Tally Youngblood is a hero. She’s constantly put others first, allowing herself to get captured and put under operations that she knows are going to mess with her mind and change her in ways she can’t imagine so that others can escape or be rescued. And yet she thinks she’s a nobody riding on Shay’s coattails into the new job of a Cutter under Special Circumstances. She’s friends with Shay once more, but is now her underling. She’s also different. This time, she’s stronger, scarier, and the new mental adjustments make her think she is better than everyone else. This means she even thinks she’s better than Zane who is still struggling after taking the pill she gave him which was full of nano’s. It ate away the lesions in his brain but without the pill that Tally took, it just continued to eat away at his brain. So not only is he just a weak Pretty in Tally’s eyes, as Shay keeps cruelly pointing out, he’s also broken.

“you’re infamous, Tally. Everyone’s terrified of you. The new system may have made the other cities nervous, but they seem to think my little gang of psychotic sixteen-year-olds is worse” – Cable to Tally”

The Cutter’s are living in the woods, an offshoot of Dr. Cable’s Special Circumstances with the goal of finding the Smokies who are infiltrating the city and sharing their medicine which Dr. Cable claims is what caused Zane to get sick. Tally is all for stopping them because she believes they are full of lies and are out to hurt people, because once again she’s forgotten everything she learned not only in book one but also in book two. But now the Smokies have banded together with the leftover Crims and have infiltrated enough so that they have higher tech and know how to protect themselves against the superhuman modifications the Cutters have.

Tally is full of hope that if she can prove Zane is well enough to join the Cutters then the doctors can fix him enough to make him Special like her and she’ll no longer feel disgusted every time she sees him. She manages to talk Shay into this scheme and they break into the old armory so they can free him from his tracking collar which after all his previous escape attempts is even more indestructible then ever before. They know if they free Zane he will go to find the New Smoke and thus lead them to it, and if they give up the New Smoke to Dr. Cable they’ll surely get anything they want.

“That Shay was in possession of hand grenades was a comforting thought showed what kind of night this had become.”

Rather than end up in the New Smoke, they’re led by someone who knows and trusts Tally well to a different city that is accepting refugees. The city of Diego is bizarre to Tally. They’ve cured all the lesions and allow any modifications a person wants. Some people elect not even to have surgery. However due to her and Shay’s actions at the armory their home city now believes that Diego had attacked in a declaration of war. All the other Cutter’s in the city of Diego have been caught and subdued except Tally, including Shay. And Tally is working hard to remain the version of herself that she currently is, despite everyone’s desire to tamper.

“I’m not sure what I am anymore… Sometimes I think I’m nothing but what other people have done to me―a big collection of brainwashing, surgeries, and cures… That, and all the mistakes I’ve made. All the people I’ve disappointed.”

Out of all the novels I think Specials is the eruption of everything that’s lead up to this point. Which makes sense, it was originally the final book in the series. It delves into Tally’s love for nature and it’s healing aspect on her, which has happened in every book. It follows the same pattern as the previous two but this time there’s war, and a larger body count and utter destruction. Tally is also stronger than she ever had been before, and scarier. And she’s determined this time not to sacrifice herself to some surgery that will change her once again, even if it will make her who she once was. She’s fighting against time and everyone else who has agendas and is trying to use her as a pawn. There’s a lot more struggle and emotion in this one and I think it’s a lot darker. It feels like the trope of people not communicating and disaster hitting because of it due to misunderstandings dialed up to an explosive amount. But despite everything, all the shocking (to me) tragedy in the book and the speedy (maybe rushed) end to the book, I do appreciate that Tally after 3 books of being manipulated and used by others finally gets to find her place and be where she wants.

“From now on, no one rewires my mind but me.”

I truly feel like this series, up until this point at least, is a love letter to the wilderness. No matter what bad thing happens, no matter what changes happen to Tally or how she’s morphed beyond recognition, the wilderness always welcomes her back and clears her mind and calms her. No matter how many times she forgets about her adventures in the wild, she falls in love with it again and again. It’s like a PSA to go out camping and to hike in nature and just forget all about life in the city.

“She carried a knife inside of herself now, one that was always cutting her. She could feel it every time she swallowed, every time her thoughts strayed from the splendor of the wild.”

Where is your dream place to belong? In the wild or in a city?

 

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