Tuesday, August 2, 2011

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

This review was also posted on O'Dell's site, Book Twirps, as a guest post.  You can go check it out here.  Feel free to stop by and leave O'Dell a comment or follow!  Thanks so much O'Dell for featuring me on your site!

North of Beautiful

Author: Justina Chen Headley

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

4 out of 5 stars

The Land of Beauty… perfect skin, luscious hair, beautiful bodies, that gorgeous face.  Those in the Land of Beauty have everything.  Well, at least everything that Terra has always strived to possess.  Why can’t I be like these girls in the magazines or the tabloids?

Because you’re ugly the Land of Beauty seems to remind her.

But does the stunning Land of Beauty remind her how beautiful she is on the inside?

Terra has the perfect life.  She has a loving boyfriend, an awesome best friend, two successful older brothers, she lives in a nice house, and her father is a famous mapmaker.  You could say, she has it all.  But let’s dig a bit deeper.  If you look closely, you will find that her boyfriend only likes her because of her body, her best friend can’t truly relate to what she goes through, Terra hasn’t spoken to her older brothers in years, her house is a desolate, empty place, and her father is verbally abusive, always putting down Terra and her mother.

But the thing that takes up most of Terra’s time and attention is her port wine stain that runs across her left cheek.  Terra has tried almost every procedure there is to get rid of her port wine stain.  All of the fancy brochures and new experimental treatments seem to do nothing for her.

Wanting to escape to college, Terra is worried that her mother won’t be able to handle her father’s cruel words on her own.  Life seems to be weighing heavily on Terra’s shoulders at the moment.  In an effort to step out of her comfort zone, Terra and her mother take a whirlwind trip to China.  Little did Terra know that she just might find love, experience true happiness, and learn to live life to its fullest on her trip across the world.  Which direction will Terra now take her life?  Will she strive to accomplish what she believes she can make out of her life, or continue to hide behind a mask of makeup and lies?  All is revealed in Justina Chen Headley’s inspiring tale of one girl’s journey to find herself in, North of Beautiful!

This book isn’t my usual read, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and complexity that Terra’s story had.  Terra’s life might have seemed perfect on the outside, but upon closer inspection they would realize that it was fractured and broken.  Filled with a sense of hope and self-discovery, I think this would be an inspiring read for teenage girls, as they will realize just how beautiful they are as well.

One aspect of this book that really made it interesting to read was the fact that Terra had a port wine stain.  I hadn’t really known much about this condition before reading North of Beautiful, and it was interesting to get into the head of someone who had lived with it practically their whole life.  A port wine stain is a purplish, wine-colored, blotchy birthmark that usually covers part of someone’s face.  Terra felt many conflicting emotions about her port wine stain, and what she wanted to do about it.  She felt that the only way to look beautiful was to cake layers of makeup all over her face and to have the perfect body to deflect people’s gazes from her birthmark.  It took Terra quite awhile to finally realize just how beautiful she really is.

North of Beautiful wasn’t only about Terra’s port wine stain though.  Often Terra wore a figurative mask and hid everything that she was going through, always appearing perfect on the surface.  I feel that all of us have done this at least once in our life, masking our true feelings from those around us.  I loved how this book didn’t just touch on the subject of port wine stains, but it also talked about family and insecurity issues.  I feel a much wider range of readers will be able to relate to Terra’s story this way.  This also made Terra’s story much more interesting and relatable, causing me to feel so much more connected to all that Terra was going through.

As the title of this book, suggests, there were many references to maps and cartography throughout this book.  Terra’s father is a mapmaker, so she knows a thing or two about maps herself.  I thought this was sort of symbolic in a way.  No matter how hard Terra tries to escape her father’s grasp, he seems to have an influence in Terra’s life through her maps.  The little excerpts that had to do with maps and cartography added a great deal to the story, and I loved reading about the different ways in which Terra made connections with her life and the direction in which she thought it was going.

I felt that the storyline of North of Beautiful was a bit all over the place, and I would have liked to have seen it condensed a bit.  This is definitely a bigger book, and some events I feel didn’t relate to what was going on, or were simply too hard to believe.  I can’t wait to read some of Justina Chen Headley’s other books, such as Girl Overboard and Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies).

A beautiful story of one atypical girl’s intense need to always do the best she can do and be the perfect girl in everyone’s eyes.  With so much more truly going on in Terra’s life, I feel that many teens will be ale to relate to this touching tale.  Join Terra, as she takes a step off the edge, and learns how to spread her wings in, North of Beautiful! 
-This is T.B. with Another Book Back on the Shelf…
Until Next Time, Keep Reading!

Check out Justina Chen Headley's website at www.justinachen.blogspot.com.


  1. Great review! I've heard such good things about this book. I'll have to add it to my TBR.

  2. This book sounds really cool! :) Terra seems exactly like the kind of heroine that I love to read about: strong, deep, and easy to relate to. I'm adding this one to my TBR pile for sure!

    Another awesome review, Tessa! :) I'm so glad that you liked this book!

  3. This one sounds like it has a great and important message, which I always appreciate in the books that I read. Great review, Tessa!

  4. Penelope Lolohea- Thanks! I can't wait to hear what you think of this one.

    Mimi Valentine- You described Terra so well! She definitely has all of those qualities, and it was really interesting to read about her and how closed off she was from everyone else at times. I'm excited to hear what you think of this one!

    Aylee- This one definitely does carry a very meaningful message, that I think a lot of teen girls will be able to relate to.

    Alyssa- Thanks so much! I like yours too :)

  5. I loved this book. It definitely held a very meaningful message. I liked being able to learn about the port wine stain. Nice review.

  6. Ashley @ Bookaholics Anonymous- Thanks! This one had a very meaningful message, and I really enjoyed the fact that I got to learn about Terra's port wine stain, but it wasn't only the main focus of the book. Terra never let her birthmark control her life.


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