North of Beautiful~ Book Review

by Justina Chen Headley
Read January/February 2010

Paperback Edition
375 Pages
Published by Little Brown
Genre~ Young Adult Fiction
ISBN 13~ 978 0 316 02505 8
Source~ Purchased second hand



From behind, you’d think Terra Cooper had it all: she’s tall but not too tall, has a figure to kill for, and boasts naturally blonde hair. But the palm-sized birthmark on her face might as well be her fate map. Everyone in her small, touristy town knows what’s hidden beneath the heavy makeup she’s worn since birth. Sick of being the town oddity and even sicker of her caustic mapmaker of a father, Terra yearns to escape the suffocating grid of her life. And then she nearly runs over an Asian Goth boy, her age…and encounters True Beauty in him…and herself.

What is beautiful?  Who gets to decide what is and what isn’t beautiful?  This book is a brilliant response to both questions.  North of Beautiful explores the journey of self-discovery that Terra Cooper embarks upon.  Terra, the youngest and only daughter of her family, was born with a port-wine stain birthmark across her cheek.  Because she can’t control this part of her physical appearance, she does everything in her power to control the rest.  This usually involves exercising to excess every morning, not eating anything bad for her, and using the thickest makeup she can to conceal her birthmark.

In addition, her family life only looks good from the outside.  Most people, Terra’s best friend included, don’t understand why her father’s words would hurt her.  “I mean, it’s not like he hits you…right?”  The way her father’s words come out as verbal punches is written exquisitely.  The author has done a fantastic job capturing this all too common abuse and the way that many don’t see it as abuse.

Terra does need help finding her way to beautiful and it comes from a very unexpected place.  She, quite literally, runs into a boy named Jacob.  With his guidance, Terra is able to being to piece together the broken fragments of her life.

There were so many other things happening in this book that I am having trouble explaining them all!  The family relationships were fantastic.  The relationship between Lois, Terra’s mother, and each of her children is not a typical one, but the way the family protects each other from their father shows how much they truly love each other.  The progression of the relationship between Terra and her mother blew me away.  They always have loved each other, but the way they were truly able to grow amazed me.

I highly recommend this book.  I had it sitting on my shelf and even though I read a glowing review for it at S. Krishna’s Books and several other sites, I still was reluctant to pick it up.  Don’t be me!  If you have a copy, read it.  If you don’t, go buy one!  I recent;y found out that this book was named one of the Best Books of 2009 by Kirkus, in addition to getting several other nods. 

This will be one to keep on the shelves, especially with two daughters of my own, who need to know beautiful is in everyone.



~ by jennifermorrill on February 2, 2010.

2 Responses to “North of Beautiful~ Book Review”

  1. SO GLAD you loved this book as much as I did (and thanks for the shout-out!) I want everyone to read this book.

  2. You are welcome Swapna. I thought it was a great book and its one I’m glad I actually own. I think it will be a great story for my daughters to read as they get older.

    Funny thing was, I had bought it 2nd had long before I read your review, but pulled it out and put it towards the front of the pile after reading how highly you thought of it.

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