Saturday, March 5, 2011

North of Beautiful

Book Blurb

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 Review
This book is highly-praised and has an almost 5-star rating on Amazon.  I ended up loving it, but I almost gave up on it at some points because it was so painful to experience Terra's life.  I didn't 'enjoy' reading it- it definitely isn't a book to read if you are looking for a fun, pleasurable reading experience.  But, it is thought-provoking, beautifully written, and full of rich symbolism, particularly the metaphor of life as a journey on a map.  The ending had me weeping.  4 Stars.

Terra lives in fear of her controlling, abusive father, and is shackled by the port-wine stain on her face that she tries desperately to change or hide.  She is insecure and accepts whatever scraps of affection or friendship are offered her way.  It broke my heart, and made me again realize how blessed I was in my own childhood and adolescence. It also gives me more compassion and empathy for my students- just because someone is a child doesn't mean that they don't have real problems or struggles in their lives. 

It is only after Terra meets Jacob and his family that Terra's true self starts to emerge in the story. She slowly starts to express herself, grows in her independence and confidence, and accepts herself as is.  I don't want to spoil the ending- and so much of the resolution of the story is Terra's growth, so I'll just stop here!

It's a beautiful story that progresses over the course of a year.  The little moments are what makes the story, not any major, dramatic plot events.  I learned to be patient as I read this.  I wanted Terra to transform almost immediately, but the author made me work for it!

I loved this relationship because it was healthy!  Jacob isn't a dark, forbidden force that Terra obsesses over a la Twilight or other popular series.  He isn't a crutch for her either- he is the catalyst in Terra's own transformation.  He isn't perfect- Jacob is struggling in his own identity and sense of self.  I thought the author did an exceptional job in writing a teenage romance that didn't make me cringe- this is the type of romance I want my students to read!

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