Book Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Born with a port-wine stain birthmark covering her entire right cheek, Terra Rose Cooper is ready to leave her stifling, small Washington town where everyone knows her for her face. With her critical, reproachful father and an obese mother who turns to food to deflect her father's verbal attacks, home life for Terra isn't so great either. Fueled by her artistic desires, she plans to escape to an East Coast college, thinking this is her true path. 
When her father intercepts her acceptance letter, Terra is pushed off-course, and she is forced to confront her deepest insecurities. After an ironically fortuitous car accident, Terra meets Jacob, a handsome but odd goth Chinese boy who was adopted from China as a toddler. Jacob immediately understands Terra's battle with feeling different. When Terra's older brother invites her and her mother to visit him in Shanghai, Jacob and his mother also join them on their journey, where they all not only confront the truth about themselves, but also realize their own true beauty.

I did not expect to be so touched by this book.  It was wonderful---writing like this is why I keep reading YA even though I'm about to (gasp!) turn 30 this month.

North of Beautiful is a story about a family, a family that is fractured with a controlling, verbally abusive father, two older brothers who have moved away from home, never to return, a mother who keeps the peace at all costs, and a young girl with a port-wine birthmark who is steeped in insecurity.  The book is told from Terra's perspective---I'm such a fan of a first person narrative.  I really don't think the emotional impact could have been achieved with third person narration.

The book does have a focus on art, cartography, and oddly enough, geocaching (something I had no idea even existed).  The addition of these elements fleshed out the story and gave it a lot of character.  I don't know about you, but I never really stopped to think about the people who make maps for a living.  That's what Terra's father does, though, and the focus on maps ended up being one of my favorite parts of the book.

Reading the summary, I expected the book to go in a different direction, but I love the way Headley drives the character development and plot.  It took a little while  (about 40 pages) for me to adapt to the writing style, but once I did, I just couldn't put this one down.  This was my first time reading Justina Chen Headley and I will definitely be back for more. 

Just One Gripe: 
Some of the phrasing was awkward---some sentences I had to read twice to grasp the true meaning.  I got used to the style after about 40 pages.

The Best Thing About This Book: 
The character growth was so believable and touching.  

Appropriate for a younger audience: 

Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Setting/Imagery: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Ending: 5/5
Total Score:  23/25


  1. This was a very touching story and I felt so connected wth characers.

  2. Really enjoyed your review! I like knowing it takes a little bit to adapt to a writing style, that way when I encounter it, I know I just need to stick with it and it will be worth it. I love really great characters and it sounds like this book has them, so I'm adding it to my ever-growing list:)

  3. What a great review. I loved this book, so I'm glad that you did too!

  4. Realistic fiction has always been one of my favourite and without doubt, I believe I'll enjoy reading this one. Hoping that I'd get the chance to read it one day. Thanks for your thorough and honest review =)

    (here from CEP)

  5. I've heard some really great things about this book. I've even checked it out from the library before but haven't ever gotten around to reading it... :(

  6. This book was really beautiful and super well written. Great characters as well.

  7. I hadn't heard of this one before! Sounds good, maybe I'll pick it up! I do hate awkward phrasings, though...

    Kerleisha @ Collegiate Bookworm

  8. This sounds awesome! I need to get it. Thanks for the review. =)

  9. 30! Oh the horrors! In a month, I will turn 29 for the first be repeated for the next ten years. I'm dreading the big 3-0. Of course, it is better than the alternative, so I should be grateful.

    I have North Of Beautiful on my floor. I'm hoping to get to it in the next week or so. I'm glad you liked it.
    Alison Can Read

  10. After we talked about this one I want to read it!

  11. 30?!! You're just a I'm 45 and I just started reading YA a year ago!!
    Beautiful review!

  12. That's a great score! 23 out of 25! You got me with the review so I will add it on. Again another great review :)


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