A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{January 30, 2013}   North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

north of beautifulPlot: Terra Rosa has the perfect body but no one notices it because of the birthmark that covers half her face. The only thing she thinks about is getting out of her home town, and away from her verbally abusive father, for college. But she doesn’t actually believe that she can escape. Until the day she runs into a gorgeous goth boy, literally.

I picked up this novel because the premise caught my interest (though I’ve been disappointed by preachy books about inner beauty in the past). And I have a soft spot in my heart for goth boys. I can’t deny it.

On the whole this was an enjoyable novel full of fascinating characters with really difficult problems: self-esteem problems, abandonment issues, abuse, etc. It is ultimately about finding beauty in everything, broadening your horizons, standing up for yourself and finding your path in life. The goth boy unfortunately doesn’t stay a goth boy but he is charming and adventurous and pulls Terra out of her shell even as he tries to deal with his adoption and his parent’s divorce. The ending is exactly what you might expect for such a tale but it is touching and satisfying.

There is a map theme running through the novel: Terra’s father is a map maker, Terra makes collages that map out people’s lives, she and Jacob go geo-caching and all the chapter titles are map-themed. This map metaphor is interesting but it’s overused. Everything is compared to maps and in the end, I think it would have been more effective if Chen Headley had toned it down a little. Similarly, she over-explains Terra’s feelings and her epiphanies. It all felt very heavy handed.

I’m also not entirely comfortable with the way Terra portrays her mother’s fat. I understand that her mother’s weight is a symptom of her unhappiness and that it conflicts with the ways in which Terra tries to gain some measure of control over her life by controlling her body. But I could feel how embarrassed she was of her mother, how, like her father, she thought her weight was a problem. I didn’t enjoy looking at this hurt but gentle and creative woman in this way. Chen Headley does this to set up Terra epiphanies about her mother and about true beauty. I know that. But it’s still uncomfortable.

North of Beautiful is an interesting book and it’s gotten some great reviews. I don’t want to take away from that. It has a sweet romance and it has a lot of interesting things to say about beauty standards, but I don’t think this is the novel for me.

2013 (#7)


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