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Sunday, June 27, 2010

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Release Date: February 1, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 373


Born with a port-wine stain birthmark covering her entire right cheek, Terra Rose Cooper is ready to leave her stifling, small Washington town where everyone knows her for her face. With her critical, reproachful father and an obese mother who turns to food to deflect her father's verbal attacks, home life for Terra isn't so great either. Fueled by her artistic desires, she plans to escape to an East Coast college, thinking this is her true path. When her father intercepts her acceptance letter, Terra is pushed off-course, and she is forced to confront her deepest insecurities. After an ironically fortuitous car accident, Terra meets Jacob, a handsome but odd goth Chinese boy who was adopted from China as a toddler. Jacob immediately understands Terra's battle with feeling different. When Terra's older brother invites her and her mother to visit him in Shanghai, Jacob and his mother also join them on their journey, where they all not only confront the truth about themselves, but also realize their own true beauty. North of Beautiful is the engaging third YA novel by Justina Chen Headley. This is a gorgeously-written, compelling book featuring universal themes of defining true beauty, family bonds, personal strength, and love.

My Review:

Terra was born with a port wine stain birthmark on her face, because of this mark on her face she believes she is not beautiful, she is flawed in some way. In order to compensate for this perceived flaw she works out every day to have a ‘beautiful’ body. She also has a large assortment of creams in order to hide her birthmark and underwent numerous painful laser treatments in order to remove or lighten the stain all of which failed. Apart from having to deal with her birthmarked face Terra’s also has to deal with her fractured family, her mother is emotionally needy, her father is emotionally abusive and her brother’s have left her to deal with it all by herself. This is a huge burden on Terra who has a plan to escape it all, study hard and get into college, all the while not questioning what she is doing. However, her plan soon hits a stumbling block when Terra literally runs into Jacob who sees Terra for who she really is and makes her question her previous assumptions on beauty and her family.

This was such an emotional book for me, it was beautifully written and really examines the issues that are raised in the book, they are not glossed over, especially Terra’s family issues. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a house where a father is so emotionally abusive to his family. Terra’s father was a vile man who treated everyone with disdain, he was a man shaped by his past. Each member of Terra’s family dealt with the abuse in different ways, Terra’s mother overate, her brothers left and Terra tried to be perfect. In the end, with the help of Jacob, Terra realized that whilst she would never be perfect, because there is no such thing, she was beautiful. Apart from Terra’s growth as a character, her mother also grew from a submissive housewife at the start of the novel into a strong and assertive character. Throughout the book we not only see how the abuse affected Terra and her mother but also see how the abuse affected Terra’s brothers, particularly Merc who lives in China and buries himself in work. Throughout the book I found myself wanting to scream at him for ignoring his sister and mother. Apart from Terra’s family we are also introduced to an assortment of characters, I especially loved Jacob and his mother, Norah, they were both such great characters.

I really enjoyed the references about maps that are dispersed throughout the book, I’ve never really known that much about maps before, but I now know a little bit more. I was also introduced to geocaching (finding hidden containers) which I have never heard of before but it sounds like real fun.

North of beautiful is an important book that deals with family, peoples differing perceptions of beauty and finding yourself. I will definitely be reading more from Headley in the future. Amazing!


Jess said...

What a fantastic review! I have a feeling this book will bring on the tears. I look forward to reading it in the future...with a box of tissues close by.

Oh and I totally understand your need to scream at Merc, I have that feeling all the time towards characters!

Rowena said...

I read this not too long ago and I really enjoyed it. My heart hurt for both Jacob and Terra. They were both such wonderful characters. I totally want to go to China because of this book. =) Great review.

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Romy @
Greetings fellow blog readers, welcome to my blog and thank you for stopping by. Now you may be wondering who is Well is also known as Romy, a 23 year old graduate student from Australia who loves to read. I read (maybe devour would be a more appropriate word) largely young adult novels, with a particular love of fantasy and paranormal novels, however I am also a sucker for a good romance.
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