Thursday, July 08, 2010

REVIEW: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper. She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob's path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?

I listed North of Beautiful as one of my favourite books of the year so far, and I firmly stand by that. It's such a wonderful book with a cast of great characters, but more than that, it discusses some really important issues and themes. It was a favourite of book bloggers last year and it took me forever to get my hands on it and when I did it, it still fully lived up to my high expectations!

Terra does her best to look her best, from her hair to keeping her body in shape. All to 'make up' for the large port-wine birthmark on her face. People keep giving her well-intentioned advice on how to make the birthmark go away or make it less red and visible, but it only serves to make Terra feel not good enough, like she needs to be fixed. She's hoping that she can make her escape from her dysfunctional family and go far away for college. After a hurtful comment from her boyfriend, Terra decides to do another round of painful surgery in order to lessen the intensity of the port-wine stain. On the drive home, a car accident allows her to meet Jacob, a good-looking Goth boy who helps her to accept her birthmark, who she is and to make some much-needed changes in her life.

I love how the concept of image and identity are played out in different ways. Most obviously with Terra and her large red birthmark on her face. She's a bit obsessive about taking care of her body, thinking that a perfect body will balance things out. The comments and unasked for advice about her birthmark, again made me sad. The ways in which people foist their own opinions onto Terra without realising how hurtful the comments are made me really feel for Terra. She puts up with a lot, and it's affected her self-esteem. She doesn't put up a fight when her father bullies her and her mother, she stays with a boyfriend who has asked her 'why can't she fix her face?'

Then there's Jacob, the Goth boy, who dresses in such a way in order to manipulate people's perception of him. Terra's mother, who seems to hide in the folds of her fat. There's so many layers to this book, I really loved it. Not only do we get a glimpse of these characters' images and identities, but there's also the adventure of travel, with the geo-caching and the map references. There's even a trip to China where Terra and her mother are able to come out of their shells, be more self-reliant and confident.

The verbal abuse of Terra's father really touched a nerve with me. I'm finding it difficult to put into words how authentic it felt to me, but just know that it really, really pulled at my heartstrings and I was able to relate fully the emotions and thoughts that Terra went through with that.

Honestly, can't say enough how much I loved this book. When I was finished with it, I felt empowered to accept and move on from my own body image issues, I wanted to travel to China, find out if there were any geo-caching opportunities in my area. I felt like making my own collage Terra-style and hang it proudly for everyone to see. I might still do that, as I was so inspired! Really, go read this book now if you haven't already.

Though I read this book before Body Image and Self Perception month, hosted by Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase, it certainly fits in with the overall theme, and BI/SP month was just a excellent reason to finally review this wonderful book.


  1. Wow, this sounds like a really honest and empowering novel. I actually hadn't read a review of it before although I had heard of the title. Next time I'm looking for an emotional journey I will pick this one up. Great thoughtful review. My favourite type!

  2. Thanks for the review! I would def try to read this one - dealing with one's imperfections is always a good read, and since you recommend this one, I'm in! Thank you :)

  3. What a fantastic review of what sounds an amazing book. I love the fact that you felt empowered by it and shall certainly be on the look out myself.

  4. This is the second mind-blowing review I've read of this one, and I can't understand why I haven't read it already. It sounds wonderful and I love that it inspired you so much.


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