January 8, 2011

Book Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Tall, fit and blond, Terra Cooper sounds like a beautiful girl and she is. Or she would be if not for the port-wine stain on her face, a large birthmark that broadcasts her flaws to the outside world. 

So, at 17, there is nothing Terra wants more than to get out of her small town in the Methow Valley - 5 hrs away from Seattle - and get away from all the people who see her as flawed, particularly her asshole of a dad. That's why she's fast-tracking through high school, in hopes of escaping to a small, East Coast College. The only thing keeping her from doing a clean break - like her brothers did before her - is her hapless mom, who's the constant victim of her father's criticism and verbal abuse.

But around winter break of her last year of high school, her plans get derailed in more ways than one. First, her father refuses to pay for her college of choice, and then she nearly runs over Jacob, a Chinese-American goth guy (who possibly wears even more make up than she does). 

After the car accident, Jacob and Terra's mothers (Nora and Lois respectively) strike an easy friendship and, after a catastrophic Christmas, when Terra's eldest brother invites her and her mom to visit him in Shanghai, Jacob and Norah decide to come with, since Norah wants to take him visit the orphanage from where she adopted him 14 years ago.

Out there in China - ever since meeting Jacob, really - Terra begins questioning everything she ever thought she knew about beauty, art, her mom and family. Even about love, as she and Jacob grow closer. In a country where everything is different and slightly frightening, where it would be so easy to get lost, Terra gets found. 

North of Beautiful is such a beautifully crafted story, I think Justina Chen Headley will be one of my author goddesses forever more, she writes that good. It took me a little while to like Terra - and I admit the book starts a little slow - but I really liked seeing her transform from the start of the book to the last page. Terra starts as a girl who's "obsessed with maps, yet perpetually lost," a "collector of treasure maps that promised the world but lead nowhere," and ends up being a girl brave enough to tell her father that she has nothing to hide. I also loved Norah, a confident yet kind woman and Jacob with his truth seeking. Oh and this girl named Eliza who dates Terra's older brother, she was so cool too.

This is the kind of book that might take you a little while to get into, but once you're hooked, you'll be racing through the book - not because you want to finish it, but because you just can't stop reading. 

Favorite Quote: "Well, it seeps into you. It doesn't make you forget yourself, but totally the opposite. It connects you with everything and fills you with awe that you share the same space with something that glorious. Like a sunrise or a clear blue day or the most extraordinary piece of glass. And then suddenly you have this epiphany that there is more to the world than just you and what you want and even who you are."  - Terra

Honorary Favorite Quote: "...she says that couples get unhappy when they start expecting things of each other. But I disagree. I'm not talking about expecting a diamond necklace and getting a box of chocolate instead. But support and loyalty? You should be able to expect that much from your partner." - Eliza
starstarstarstar1/2Personal Favorite

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