Book Review: Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Friday 23 May 2014

Scott Westerfeld
Genre(s): Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published: September 1st 2012
Pages: 417
Rating: 2 stars

These days it's all about the fame.

As if life isn't hard enough when you're fifteen, Aya Fuse's face rank of 451,369 is so low, she's a total nobody. An Extra. But when she meets a clique of girls who pull crazy, dangerous tricks in secret, Aya sees a way to get her popularity rating to soar...

Aya is sure she's destined for a life in the spotlight, and if she can just kick the story to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are, then the spotlight will be on her. 

But is Aya really prepared to be propelled out of Extra-land and into a world of instant fame, celebrity... and extreme danger?

Before I picked this up, I thought it was a companion book to the Uglies trilogy. With that in mind, I was interested to read it and see what happened because the other books were okay - nothing amazing yet nothing to really regret reading.

When I learnt that this is actually the fourth book in the series that interest disappeared. From reading the blurb I knew that this was about a different set of characters in the 'new world' Tally and her friends were responsible for, and that the issues about to be faced weren't to do with the uglies/pretties/specials programme.

Knowing that, I ask: why? Why is this part of the series and not a companion novel?

From the very first chapter, Aya annoyed me. More so than Tally did in the first three books. The way she talks using words like 'scary-making' and 'wrist-hurting' made her sound juvenile and immature, not fun and quirky like I assume Westerfeld intended. She also came across as quite shallow and whiny, and the way she obsessed over her face rank got old very quickly.

I also felt that Westerfeld had undone all the work the original trilogy had done about showing that looks aren't everything, as people were still having 'surge' and caring about looking 'good'. (However, I felt this at the end of Specials, as well, when it took that weird environmentalist kick or whatever it was at the end. It felt very out of place and left me very dissatisfied.) Yes, the focus is now on fame and reputation, but looks certainly play a large part in that (notice how many of the higher ranking, 'non-extra' people are described as looking nice or having surge) and I thought that - after Specials - people weren't supposed to care any more?

The way technology is explained is well... it's not, really. I had a lot of trouble getting my head around the things like smart matter and the mag-lev trains. Perhaps this was partly due to the amount of time I left between reading Specials and Extras which meant I was out of touch with the world, but I feel it was down to Westerfeld failing to make things clear and understandable, like things in a dystopian/science fiction world should be.

That being said, I did enjoy the pacing of this. While I was left wondering what on Earth this story had to do with the original trilogy, I didn't find it especially boring or dread picking it up to read the next chapter. In fact, I found Westerfeld's writing to be entertaining, if not especially complex or mind-blowing.

Overall, I feel that this book was very extra and should have remained as a companion novel or just never have been written. I wouldn't recommend it unless you absolutely fell in love with the first three books.

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