North of Beautiful

NorthOfBeautifulNorth of Beautiful by Justina Chen (Headley)
Published: 1-6-2009 by Little, Brown
Get the book: Amazon, Book Depository

As he continued to stare, I wanted to point to my cheek and remind him, But you were the one who wanted this, remember? You’re the one who asked-and I repeat-Why not fix your face? 

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?


Design – Saho Fujii       girl photo – Michele Constantini      Rating – 4/5

I really like this cover because I feel that it captures the mood and ideas of the book really well. The girl looking down with her hair obscuring half of her face is the perfect choice of picture to portray Terra. I love how the transparent compass rose is centered on her cheek, covering almost all of the visible face and running off the side of the cover. It’s wonderfully emblematic of how Terra feels about the way her port-wine stain changes the way people see her. My only problem with the cover is how the 1st word of the title doesn’t stand out as much as the rest of it. The photo of the girl is a stock image that is way overused in YA, but this was the 1st book I saw it on.

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North of Beautiful is a really good read if you’re a fan of contemporaries where the heroine’s life is complicated. Terra’s family is really screwed up and it will piss you off. Jacob and Terra’s friendship is adorable as they dance around their developing feelings for each other. Overall, North of Beautiful is very emotional – great for anyone who likes Sarah Dessen or Deb Caletti – but it’s not without flaws.

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  • geocaching – The geocaching adventures that Jacob introduces Terra to are great. It’s a way for Terra to discover something new and it’s something she and Jacob can do together. The map theme of the book got confusing at times, but geocaching with a GPS is a nice way to update maps a bit and weave them into the story instead of making more map metaphors.
  • complicated – I really appreciate that North of Beautiful takes on more than just Terra’s awful self-confidence. It’s a book layered with issues of varying kinds that Terra, Jacob, and their families are dealing with. Real life doesn’t just serve up one problem at a time for you to deal with; things build up and come from every direction sometimes. I love it when books don’t why away from giving the main character more than one thing to stress about in their life. It makes it much more realistic.
  • China – Most of the YA books I’ve read that involve trips to foreign countries are about teens with no parental supervision or goals beyond sex. North of Beautiful spends a significant amount of time in China, and manages to devote time to the country itself. China isn’t portrayed as ideal. Terra and Jacob see parts of the country that are poor and troubled, and they see the touristy parts that are modern and rich. Even though each of the visiting characters finds something they need in China, the book treats it as a complex place with its own problems, and as a place with a lasting impact on the characters.

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  • Terra’s parents – Terra’s dad is incapable of speaking without being verbally abusive to Terra or her mother – especially her mother. Fortunately, I don’t have personal experience with that kind of abuse, but her dad was just so awful that I wonder if his character is realistic or over-the-top. The way Terra’s mom just accepted and internalized each and every comment made me want to shake her out of it. Both Terra and her mother have extremely low self-esteem, due in part to the constant barrage of insults they put up with at home. In my mind I was just so infuriated by this man that I questioned Terra’s mom all the time, thinking that at any moment she could have chosen to take Terra and leave. Realistically, I know that it is much more complex than this; emotionally, legally, in ways I can’t even imagine, but it was more like I was trying to make them fight back purely through my intense will for them to do so.
  • Jacob + Terra – While I really like Jacob, and adore he and Terra’s friendship, I think their relationship moved too quickly. I’m talking more about emotionally than physically, because as soon as they meet, Jacob and Terra pretty much dive right into the deep stuff in conversation. Jacob’s feelings about his adoptive mother’s mission to visit the orphanage he came from, Terra’s father, her feelings about her brothers leaving the house…it just seems like it’s really intimate stuff to discuss with someone you’ve just met, especially if that someone is a guy you’re attracted to.
  • perfection – Although there are many awful things in both Terra and Jacob’s lives, and they deserve some perfection, I found some aspects of the story a bit too perfect and convenient. Jacob’s a great guy, but he’s got no flaws to make him more realistic. The chances of Terra finding an orphan with a port-wine stain just in time to make a grand declaration of her own beauty are so low. And why did Terra’s aunt have to be dead? It seems like she was only dead so there would be no one there to help Terra’s mom develop confidence until Jacob’s mom showed up.

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And then I crouched and peered beneath my car.
No boy, no blood, no guts.
“Thank God,” I muttered, leaning my head against the truck in relief.
“You know,” said a deep voice from behind me, “there are easier ways to meet a guy than to run him over.”
– Terra + Jacob   pg. 61

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.     – pg. 310

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4 Robots

Acquired: bought


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