Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (with book club notes)

15 Mar

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

North of Beautiful is the story of a teen girl’s journey to figure out who she is.

Terra has talent as an artist, but her father belittles her work, and refuses to support her plans to go to the college of her choice.  Her friend tells her how lucky she is to have a cool boyfriend, frequently implying that her physical imperfection makes her less worthwhile.  Terra’s only defense is to plan to graduate a year early and escape, somehow.

Then Terra runs into Jacob.  Her car hits his, and Jacob and his mother are the catalysts for Terra and her mom to expand the boundaries of their world, a world that had been narrowed to a very small area by Terra’s port wine stain on her face, by her mother’s weight, and most particularly by her father’s verbal abuse.

I particularly love the middle section of this book, as Terra and her mother explore China, but more so explore themselves.

I liked Terra. She seemed like a real teen– self centered, a little too willing to go along with what others suggest.  She doesn’t always do the right thing, but she’s starting to take some responsibility for her own life.

I identified more with her mother , and I suspect she was a bigger part of the novel for me than for many other readers, particularly those in the the YA category.

Jacob is one of the more interesting male characters I’ve come across recently, which may say more about the other books I’ve been reading than this one. Still, he’s funny, interesting, perceptive and a nice guy, bordering on slightly too perfect.

Beyond the characters and the journey, I also appreciated the reflections on beauty and what it means to be beautiful.  The continual interweaving of map language and imagery also contributed to my enjoyment of the book.

All in all, it was a satisfying read.

Book Club Notes

I read this book with one of my book clubs.

Of the 5 of us at the meeting, four of us really enjoyed the book, one thought it was just OK.   She objected to the exaggerated nature of the characters (the rest of us agreed they were, but didn’t have a problem with it).  She also ran into an inconsistency with the listed ages of the characters (no one else noticed).

The rest of us appreciated the language, the journey Terra took, the journey her mother made, the language, and the perspective on beauty.

That said, we had a good but not great conversation about the book.  I think it may have been more about us than about the book, and I think some thoughtful discussion questions might have helped us.

I’m disappointed that our one male member ran into schedule problems, and elected not to finish the book, since the first section didn’t grab his interest.  I would have been interested in his perspective.


Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


Tags: , , ,

3 responses to “Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (with book club notes)

  1. Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

    March 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Pretty sure I bought this a while back at that Scholastic sale. Need to get to it.

  2. Marce

    March 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    This is on my TBR list but I am being picky with YA books now.

  3. Rebecca Rasmussen

    March 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

    This is sounds like a gorgeous and interesting book! 🙂


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