Friday, February 27, 2009

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley


North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Synopsis from author's website:

From behind, you’d think Terra Cooper had it all: she’s tall but not too tall, has a figure to kill for, and boasts naturally blonde hair. But the palm-sized birthmark on her face might as well be her fate map. Everyone in her small, touristy town knows what’s hidden beneath the heavy makeup she’s worn since birth. Sick of being the town oddity and even sicker of her caustic mapmaker of a father, Terra yearns to escape the suffocating grid of her life. And then she nearly runs over an Asian Goth boy, her age…and encounters True Beauty in him…and herself.


Headley creates a character in Terra who is so complex, mixing insecurities with a grand life plan, and so endearing you can't help but love her and feel sympathy for her. She is a classically tormented artist but instead of being tortured by her art she is forced to deal with an emotionally abusive father and the waves of destruction that creates throughout her family. In an attempt to escape their father her brother abandon her and her mother. Terra is also tormented by the classic images that define beauty which she can never emulate because of the birthmark on her face. Instead of embracing what makes her different she tries to cover her face with make up and erase the mark with painful treatments. Even her boyfriend and best friend add to her insecurities without being aware of it.

Her life and the novel take a major turn when she nearly hits an Asian Goth boy with her car and the two form an unlikely friendship. The time these two spend together is the best part of the novel. Whether at home or on their trip to China Jacob is always brutally honest with her and pushes her to rethink all her preconceived notion of beauty.

The novel was incredibly beautiful and touching. You could feel every emotion Terra felt and just as deeply as she was. I am having a hard time putting in to words how touched I was by Terra's story and her transformation from someone who was trying to be invisible to someone who embraced all her beauty. It was also incredibly original that Headley braided map making throughout the entire novel. Terra's father is a cartographer, her brothers and her all have map related names, Terra's art always involves maps both literally and abstractly and Terra and Jacob go geocaching together.

I think Headley's work in this novel is completely brilliant. Her characters have layers and depth and the plot is incredibly original. I also really want to go geocaching now, in China, with Jacob and Terra.

I have so many favorite quotes from this novel but here are a few:
"The pressure of his touch through my jacket and my sweater was more assurance than any promise ever made to me. It was a touch that said, I have your back and I am here for you. If a girl wasn't careful, she could fall in love with a touch like that."

"There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After."

"A pathfinder's job is hard enough - blazing trails where there are none, guided by nothing but hearsay and gut. While you're hacking your way through bracken, worrying about lurking beasts, all you can do is hope you had chosen the right direction."

2 comments:

Marie Hansen said...

This book really *was* amazing. I loved the whole mother/daughter thing... it felt so real!

Ladytink_534 said...

I'll have to see about getting this. It sounds like a story I would like alot.

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