Extras is the fourth book in the Uglies trilogy. Yes, I did mean that. The dedication for Extras says, “To everyone who wrote me to reveal the secret definition of the word ‘trilogy.’” In other words, Westerfeld wrote this book at the request of fans, or so I read somewhere (can’t find the link at the moment, sorry). Either way, I’m happy he did, because while this book isn’t like the other three, it’s still a good read.
The book takes place several years after the collapse of the dystopia of the first three books. Humanity has become freethinking again. Without any structure or guidance, cities are going crazy, sort of like early teens seeking an identity for themselves. People have gone to extreme extremes, such as cliques that undergo surgery to turn their skin into leopard fur or fish scales, or kids who fashion their faces after old Japanese Manga characters. Extras takes place in a city of one million people in Japan. Resources are running low worldwide – turns out freethinkers are more demanding than bubbleheads – so this city implements a new form of currency: face ranking and merits. One receives merits by doing good things for the city. One ups their face rank by striving for popularity and fame. Both face rank and merits get you more stuff. Everyone has their own feed and cameras, so that their world is like a gigantic cross between Myspace, Blogger, and Youtube. Big feeds (think Cake Wrecks or The Daily Dish) far outshine the feeds of Extras – people with low face ranks – like my little corner of the blogosphere here.
Fifteen year old Aya Fuse is an Extra. Her face rank is nearly 500,000. Her older brother is famous, and she wants more than anything to find a story to post that will catapult her out of obscurity. She comes across a clique called the Sly Girls – girls who do crazy things like jump off bridges or surf on superfast trains but who also want to avoid fame at all costs. Aya tricks these girls into thinking she’s one of them, and plans to post their story all over the city, except that when she’s along for the ride, the girls accidentally discover a more important and more dangerous story. Aya may achieve her ambitions, but she’ll also have to pay the price for doing so.
There are two big themes in this book (that I’m going to talk about, at least). The first deals with fame and its consequences. Westerfeld mashes up an interesting hyperbole of current internet and Hollywood culture in order to create the layout for Aya’s city. There are paparazzi cameras that follow big faces around. Everyone knows everything about anybody. People compete for the most hits on their names, the most people watching their feeds. They compete for who can be the craziest, smartest, or most interesting. And those who aren’t famous covet what the famous have (except people like the Sly Girls, anyway). Aya’s so obsessed with fame that she’s blind. She knows her famous brother is a snob, and she makes fun of other famous people, but for some reason that doesn’t deter her. She’s willing to lie, cheat, or do whatever it takes to get her face rank up. When the paparazzi cams catch her talking to a big face when she’s covered in mud and slime, and her face rank goes up because everyone’s calling her Slime Queen, she’s outraged that secret pictures of her have been posted, and yet she doesn’t realize she’s doing the same thing to the Sly Girls. She feels lost without her camera or when she has to turn her feed off, like she no longer exists. She never changes. It was somewhat annoying, actually, but it gets the point across: emphasis on popularity in culture can be brainwashing and hypnotizing. The reader can see how easily this new city culture could devolve back into the dystopia of earlier, or into something worse.
Secondly, the book focuses a lot on honesty. Beyond the fact that everyone seems willing to lie to each other to get what they want, there’s one character who in particular emphasizes the value of truth. His name’s Frizz, and he’s the founder of a clique called Radical Honesty. He had brain surgery to disable his ability to lie, mislead, or deceive in any way. He can’t even keep secrets. This becomes quite a problem for the characters throughout the book, but it serves as an interesting foil to the blatant dishonesty shown by nearly every other character. I suppose the best way to show the harm of deception is to contrast it to pure truth.
Some other small notes about the book: Since this is set in Japan, there is a lot of Japanese cultural references. I don’t know much about Japanese culture myself, but I’ve known people who loved this one for all those references. Also, while this book is told from Aya’s POV, Tally Youngblood (the main character from the first three books) does come back into this one for the latter half. Seeing her from the outside confirms all the things I suspected about her in Specials. She still hasn’t completely rewired her brain, and she still thinks like a Cutter. It’s unfortunate, because I really liked Tally before, but in this book, she’s unstable, mean, selfish, and blind. But that wasn’t unexpected, because that’s exactly how she was in the last book, and she didn’t let them give her the cure. I’d hoped she’d gotten better, but it feels good in a way to have my suspicions about her confirmed.
There’s a lot more to this book than I can possibly say here. It was fun, and touched on a lot of things relevant to our current society, so I don’t feel like it’s too far off from being a warning. It’s not terribly related to the first three books of the trilogy (ha!), so I wouldn’t recommend reading it like it’s a sequel. It does, however, give a very insightful look at what might have happened within a few years of the dystopia’s downfall.