Review of EXTRAS by SCOTT WESTERFELD
(fourth in the UGLIES series)
EXTRAS is the fourth book in the UGLIES trilogy. Yes, you read that right. Aya Fuse’s world feels both familiar and new at the same time. After Tally Youngblood spread the mind-rain three years ago, a new system of order developed in Japan, one in which fame functions as a currency. To say this book is intriguing is a serious understatement!
Despite the technological differences between these futuristic cities and our current world, all four books resonate with simple, universal themes. The original trilogy's most obvious theme is beauty, a concept at the focus of countless philosophical discussions. Aya's city centers around something else: fame, another widespread preoccupation in our world.
Like Tally, Aya isn't a deliberate rebel. She wants to fit in, or better yet to stand out - no, wait, she wants to fit in by standing out. She monitors her face rank vigorously, and devotes her life to plotting how she can boost her rating. Aya is a kicker, or someone who posts informative videos on her feed in hopes that enough viewers will make her famous. Like Tally met Shay, someone who didn't want the pretty surgery and forced her to see the world from a new perspective, Aya meets the Sly Girls. Unlike anyone Aya has known before, the Sly Girls try to keep their face ranks as low as possible, and Aya cannot comprehend this desire for anonymity.
The "accidental rebel" trope is really a subtheme of what appears to be a Westerfeld staple, at least for this series: the imperfect hero. If you've already read SPECIALS, you'll remember how Tally - whoops - destroyed an entire base of weapons, giving Dr. Cable license to start a war. Aya also finds that in her desperation for fame she might have hurried her research, rendering the facts very, very wrong.
This might sound minor, but I was particularly impressed with how Westerfeld handled the language barrier in his writing. Aya speaks Japanese, though, of course, we read her dialogue in English. When she meets some English speakers, there's the potential for language confusion (a problem many books run into when they, admirably, attempt to incorporate different language speakers into their story), but Westerfeld does a masterful job of subtly reminding us that Aya normally speaks Japanese, and of drawing our attention to places where conversation misunderstandings are rooted in Aya's imperfect grasp of English. Most of the time, I wince when reading scenes where characters are clearly switching languages, but Westerfeld slips this element in with ease!
SPECIALS remains my favorite in the UGLIES series, but EXTRAS is a close second. More cool new technology, elements of traditional Japanese culture, and a critical examination into our fame fixation. This latter addition to a series doesn't disappoint!