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Tally is the main character of the book, and quite adventurous at that. All that she dreams of is to become a Pretty, and then reside on the island of Pretties that she has managed to sneak over to a few times.
Peris is her best friend, and just a little bit older than her, meaning that he turned 16 years old first and was able to get the special surgery that is needed to make you pretty. Struck with grief, she goes over to Prettytown in plain view of everyone, even though it is strictly unallowed. Her confident and boisterous attitude allowing her to do this, she pretends she is Pretty (even though it is obvious she is not) and confronts Peris. Peris has changed a lot and doesn't even like Tally because she isn't pretty, so Tally loses hope in her friend but still keeps him in the back of her mind.
Meanwhile, on normals days in Uglyville, Tally meets Shay. Shay has the same birthday as her, but she has no friends left, just like Tally. She tells Tally of a place called the Smoke that most of her friends ran away to, but those who chickened out turned Pretty just like they always wanted to. Tally begins to question why anyone would run away from such a 'perfect' system, then realizes that it might not be so great after all. Shay was one of those that stayed behind, too scared to travel to the Smoke, but, now that her surgery time is approaching, she decides to go. Inviting Tally with her, she agrees to come along.
One night, the same night it is planned for them to leave for the Smoke, Tally doesn't go. She prefers to stay behind and be turned into a pretty, but this doesn't work out for her. Captured by officials that go by the name 'Special Circumstances', she is threatened to find Shay or she will not be turned into a Pretty. Extremely and selfishly scared, she goes to find Shay with a tracking device given to her by the authorities. She is told that if anything happens, she will be saved, and once she is in the Smoke (which the city desperately wants to get rid of), she needs to activate the tracking device by damaging it.
After a long and painful trek through the woods, Tally ends up finding the Smoke. David, a young leader there, greets Tally warmly, and the two fall in love. No longer caring if she turns Pretty, Tally decides not to activate the tracking device at all. She hasn't told anyone about it, however, for fear that they will all hate her.
One night, she and David are sitting by a fire, and David question the tracking device (which is a heart-shaped necklace). Tally doesn't specifically say what it is from, but states that it doesn't matter anymore. Throwing it into the fire, she thinks that that is the end of that. However, the extreme heat activates the tracking device, and the authorities come. The book ends with the devastation and fear that comes with the authorities arriving, and Tally realizes that she has destroyed civilization's last chance for freedom - The Smoke.
Peris is a short-lived character in the novel, not being described much beyond the first few chapters. Best friends with Tally, he reaches the age at which he is to become a Pretty. In response, he is taken to Prettyland and parties with all of the others there. Tally is jealous because she is not yet old enough to become Pretty, so she sneaks over and confronts Peris. Peris is rude to her and wants her to leave, showing how he completely changed in character after the surgery. No longer a nice person, he is selfish and wants Uglies like Tally to leave him alone.
Shay is the rebellious sort, and she is the one that introduced Tally to the idea of running away. All of her friends had already run away to the Smoke or had stayed to turn Pretty, but Shay has changed her mind once again and wants to travel there. Inviting Tally to go with her, she is disappointed the night that she runs away and Tally doesn't come with her. However, her time at the Smoke is more than pleasing. She falls in love with David, a young leader there. However, Tally eventually does come, and he begins to favor Tally over Shay. Angry with Tally, we see Shay begin to separate from her once out of many times in the Uglies series. The two find it hard to keep a friendship, and when the authorities come to the Smoke, Shay claims she knew that Tally would do something like this all along and hated every ounce of blood in Tally's body.
David is a young leader in the Smoke, and has never seen a real city like from where Tally and Shay come from. His parents are Az and Maddy, who started the Smoke years ago when they realized that the city was being cruel and manipulative to its citizens. At a place called the Rusty Ruins 'legend' has it that if you shine a safety sparkler, David will come and take you to the Smoke. For a while, Tally did not believe that David even existed but, when she does, she falls in love with him. David is strong and likable, with a body warped by nature. He doesn't have an outgoing attitude, but is liked by everyone in the Smoke for being an honest and true person.
Maddy and Az
Maddy and Az are the parents of David, and are so similar that they are almost like the same character. Both used to live in the city that Tally and Shay are from a long time ago, and both were doctors. Together they discovered that the city was putting a brain lesion in people when they got the surgery to become Pretty, making them dumber and less rebellious. They live together, and David is thought to be the only child in the world born outside of a city.
Dr. Cable is the leader of the organization dubbed Special Circumstances, which is almost mythical because people don't think it is real. Only dealing with very severe problems (like the Smoke), they are independent from the city government and want to keep the population under complete control. Tally is visited by them after Shay runs away, and is threatened that she will not get the Pretty surgery if she doesn't find Shay. So, Dr. Cable, who has "a face like a wolf with razor eyes", gives Tally a tracking device to find the Smoke. Cable is just an evil person all around, and there is no way to stop her from what she wants to do.
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The advantages are in summary the ability to conform and be appreciated within society. The society Westerfield writes about is extremely superficial, obsessed with outer beauty. The surgery would grant Tally acceptance, increased self-confidence,...