One night, a boy from her past brings her a gift - the cure that she promised she would take to cure the pretty-mindedness that keeps all new pretties in a fuzzy haze of obedience. Wary of the possibilities, especially because she doesn't remember to agreeing to being a lab rat, she enlists the help of the Crim's leader, Zane. Together, they discover a way to erase the stupidity that comes with being a Pretty and work to ensure that all of their friends are able to escape the hold society has on them. But clear-mindedness brings back painful memories that various characters must deal with. Specifically, Shay remembers Tally's betrayal of The Smoke, and it causes tension between the two friends, resulting in Shay creating her own clique, The Cutters.
Desperate to break free from the government's hold, all the Crims (excluding those who joined Shay) create a plan to break out of the city and join the resistance efforts of those in The New Smoke. Everyone that makes the decision to leave breaks free, but Tally is separated from the group and must fight to navigate the forest and find the rendezvous point. During her journey, though, she finds a "savage" group of people who have been strategically placed in a contained area of the forest to be studied by doctors from New Pretty Town. They have been held for generations, not knowing that they are a cruel experiment, but Tally soon learns the reasoning behind the government's tests. Tally eventually escapes, but she knows that she can't allow for the people to continue their suffering, and she makes a promise to come back and free the people from the artificial prison created by the government.
Upon escaping, she eventually finds The New Smoke, ready to join the ranks and mend relationships that were broken the last time she was in their midsts, but Dr. Cable ruins her plans once again by activating a hidden tracking device implanted in the unlikeliest of places. Luckily, everyone from the The New Smoke, except a couple of Crim friends and Tally, escapes the evil clutches of Dr, Cable and her henchmen, but Tally's future is looking painfully special.
What I like most about this book is the inner workings of Tally's brain. Although there is an external battle against the government that is constantly being waged, Tally is also constantly battling with the "pretty-mindedness" that continuously clouds her mind. I thought it was interesting to see the shift between both mindsets. It made the inner conflict much more explicit.
What I didn't like about the book was the connection of the contained area to a reservation. I'm still trying to gather my thoughts about it, but Tally mentions that the area "wasn’t just a few stray people living in the wilderness; it was someone’s pet anthropology project, a preserve of some kind. Or . . . what had the Rusties called them? This was a reservation" (298). I don't think that Westerfeld was talking about actual reservations, but I think his word choice could have been better, especially since Tally calls the people savages at one point. I think that could be triggering.
There was a lot of conversation on gender roles, but I also felt like this was stinted because gender roles were only described as a rusty-era topic. Tally didn't like how the women cooked and stayed at home while the men went out hunting and killing. She was disturbed that the men ate first and the women and children ate the leftovers. This is definitely a concerning issue, but I think more comparison to the difference in current society would have been good to include to expound upon her reasoning.