Westerfeld, Scott (2007). Extras. NY: Simon Pulse. 417 pages.
Set nearly five years following the events described in Westerfeld’s “Uglies” trilogy, Extras describes a world changed by Tally Youngblood and her Special friends and a futuristic city in which popularity is a commodity. Aya Fuse is the fifteen-year-old sister of one of her city’s most popular “kickers” (bloggers-cum-reporters who send news and entertainment stories to the city’s feeds in order to increase their own popularity ratings) and, though she is a kicker in her own right, cannot compete with her brother’s popularity. When, as she is trying to produce an undercover expose of a group of tricksters known as the Sly Girls, Aya discovers what appears to be an underground missile launch, and the story she kicks to the feed leads to her instant notoriety. Unfortunately, the owners of the missile launch–creepy surgically altered humans with monkey-like hands and feet–are less than pleased, and, with Tally Youngblood in their heels, mysterious missile “freaks” decide to come after Aya and her friends.
Like the other books in Westerfeld’s “Uglies” oeuvre, Extras moves quickly and features the made-up slang for which Westerfeld is famous (“truth-slanting,” “sense-missing”). The market economy of fame is an especially intriguing conceit, and the addition of a locally famous character known for the foundation of a clique called “Radical Honesty,” the members of which submit to brain surgery that prevents them from lying , earns the book cool points as well. Extras is also notable for its recognizable setting; unlike the “Uglies” books, which could be set in the U.S. or Australia, this novel is set in Japan. As the characters (and the citizens of the world around them) try to make sense of the differently stratified world (no more Ugly, Pretty, Crumbly hierarchies), they begin to adopt behaviors and customs from the “old world” in an attempt to create personal or national meaning. Thus, mentions of paper cranes, bowing, and manga become sort of incongruous touchstones in the futuristic fantasy setting. Like good science fiction is supposed to do, Extras forces us to turn our gazes from the made-up world to our own and, more so with this newest installment of the series than with previous books, the comparisons are both obvious and meaningful.