(Review) NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL by Justina Chen Headley

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Author: Justina Chen Headley
Release Date: Out now (Feb. 01, 2009)
Publisher: Little, Brown
Received: Borrowed to read


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.

What is beauty?  Ask 100 people, get 100 different answers.  It's true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  With the onslaught of media stating that everyone should look a certain way, it's hard when a person doesn't fit that mold, especially during the high school years.

Here's an example of a conversation revolving around beauty in Justina Chen Headley's award-winning novel NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL:

"Nothing's perfect."

"Maybe we don't have the same definition about what's beautiful.  So define it.  Define true beauty."

"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's more to the world than just you and what you want or even who you are."

(pgs. 229~230, hardcover edition)

Terra Rose Cooper is not what anyone would call traditionally beautiful, despite the fact that she has a perfect figure and was born with the type of blonde hair that women spend thousands of dollars a year trying to copy.  People always give her a double-take, and not because of these features.  Instead, they find themselves staring at the huge port-wine stain encompassing her right cheek.

No matter how many procedures Terra goes through to remove the unsightly blemish, nothing works.  She suffocates it beneath layers of make-up, but it's always there.  She's only had one boyfriend, and the relationship is one of convenience.  On top of that, her dad is over-controlling and loves belittling her and her overweight mother.  Terra's day-to-day existence is hard, and she can't wait to graduate and go to college as far away as possible.  Over winter break after yet another botched attempt to surgically remove her birthmark, her family becomes entwined with the Fremont family's after a minor car accident.  The Fremont family has its own issues:  The parents are going through a divorce and the eldest son, Jacob, is adopted.  Everyone always stares at him because he's an adopted Chinese boy, not a girl like everyone' used to seeing.  His mother always has to tell perfect strangers about the way he was born with a cleft lip.  The two families become fast friends and teach one another about learning to live all over again, causing Terra to re-evaluate her own meaning of the definition of true beauty.

Headley also has a masterful way of portraying prose, rendering ordinary sentences into something beautiful. For example:

"Maybe my conversations with Jacob were nothing but spiderwebs, sparkling with the fresh dew of newness, stringing us together, but gaping with hopes?" (pg. 195, hardcover edition)

There are so many layers to NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL.  While at first, Terra and her mother wallow a lot, they've gained a lot of confidence by the novel's end.  There's a very empowering feel to the book as it comes to a close.  There are multiple social issues at play that many readers will be able to relate to, whether it's being overweight, having birthmarks/scars/acne/etc. rather than the perfect face, or living in a household in fear of a parent.  Where can one fit in when they don't fit into the world at large?  NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL is about paving your own path and believing in yourself.  I loved the message of this novel and can see why it  has been nominated for so many awards.


Every time I see this cover, I can't help but think of the cover for Alyson Noël's EVERMORE.  The same stock image of the model was used, only flipped in reverse.  What's even more interesting is the fact that the two novels were published two days apart, so it wasn't like one had been out for a long time and the other copied.

I like the way the model's hair covers the right-side of the model's face in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL so you can't see Terra's birthmark.  It allows readers to envision their own image in their head and create the shape as they want to see it.  I also like the way that the model's left cheek is blemished by a compass.  The compass is important in the novel because Terra and Jacob go geo-caching.  Also, Terra's father is a cartographer and has named his three children after his specialty.  I also like the way the three sections of the book were titled: Terra Nullis, Terra Incognita and Terra Firma.  Each segment looks like:

Additionally, each chapter had latitude and longitude lines running through the page as well as a title that fits in with the world of mapping.  

So clever!

You can't really see it in this picture, but I really like the way each title heading is at an angle.  The font also makes for some cute-looking pages!


  1. I really need to reread this one! I liked it, although I don't think I connected to it quite the way that a lot of other people have.

    But I'm glad that you liked it so much and I do agree that it's quite a powerful novel!

  2. I love this book so much. I can relate to Terra and I feel like it just made the book that much more amazing. I wish that they would make this book into a movie so bad! So many people need to understand the true meaning behind this book. <3

  3. I love this book so much. I can relate to Terra and I feel like it just made the book that much more amazing. I wish that they would make this book into a movie so bad! So many people need to understand the true meaning behind this book. <3


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