Tuesday, December 23, 2014

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen

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?

Written in lively, artful prose, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley has woven together a powerful novel about a fractured family, falling in love, travel, and the meaning of true beauty.

My Thoughts:
Something bothered me about this book. The whole time I was reading it I felt wary. Maybe I was expecting something else to happen. Everything that did happen, though, was just so ordinary. So normal. 

Our main character, Terra, has a large birthmark on her face. People stare at it. She gets made fun of. She feels it defines her. This made me kind of mad because a) she's able to hide it with makeup so no one sees it anyway and b) WHY SHOULD THAT DEFINE HER???

I've grown up with multiple moles on my face. People stare at them. People ask about them. And then they leave it alone. Granted, mine don't take up half my face, but I feel like a birthmark just isn't a huge obstacle. A missing limb or something, sure. Her friend with the cleft palette, yeah. But a birthmark that she's perfectly capable of covering up? I just don't have much sympathy for her, I guess. Especially since half of this book is dedicated to theme that beauty is only skin deep. Which is a pretty played-out theme. 

The whole storyline with her parents, though, was really quite interesting to read. Terra's dad was just an all-around jerk and made his entire family cower before him and feel really insecure. The way that Chen was able to flesh-out his character without giving too much away was beautifully done. And Terra's mother as well; we learned a lot about her and how her mind works but it was done fairly subtly. The way Chen tackles the subject of cruel words and their effects on others was very well done. I understood why Terra's mom stayed with her dad. I understood why Terra stayed with a boyfriend she didn't really care about. It made sense and it was very well thought-out and applied. And now this review is sounding very much like it was a school assignment. I don't what it is, exactly, but something about this book makes me want to be super formal. Allow me to rectify that:

Ok, so Justina Chen writes a decent, well-developed character (all except for Jacob, who felt just a bit flat). But reading this book felt like she'd just swallowed a few too many encyclopedia entries about maps. There was map terminology all over the place and references to famous mapmakers and discussions about elements on maps. I mean, it was everywhere. By the end of the book this theme felt a bit played-out. More than a bit. I did actually learn a lot about maps, not being a map person myself, but I started getting irritated when an interesting fact popped up about maps. Even if it was interesting. Does that make sense? Probably not. The art thing was almost the same way. Almost. But I like art more than maps so that aspect made more sense to me.

I picked up this book originally looking for a cute Christmas read. The first half of the book takes place around Christmas but the latter half of the book is a long, cathartic vacation through China. That has nothing to do with Christmas. The fact that I wanted a Christmas read and only got half of what I wanted may have also tainted my feelings toward it. But I understand the appeal, even it didn't completely appeal to me. This book was pretty clean and it tackled themes of inner beauty and outer beauty and the effects of words and insecurity and discovering self. I would totally recommend this to teenage girls.

Sexual Content: Mild (kissing and a vague impression that characters had sex at some indeterminate point)
Language: Mild
Violence: Mild
Drugs/Alcohol: Mild

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