Wednesday, October 14, 2009
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
By Justina Chen Headley
Terra’s an artistic high school senior who was born with a facial port-wine stain and a cruel father who regularly belittles both her and her overweight, subservient mother. He’d done the same to Terra’s brothers, but they’re grown and gone—as far away from their father as they could go. Feeling ugly, Terra escapes into art. Collage art, built layer upon layer, until a thing of beauty emerges. Kinda like the layers upon layers of makeup she applies to her face, to hide the ugly birthmark beneath. To make up for her “ugly” face, Terra exercises like mad and has an amazing body—which is the only thing her meathead of a boyfriend seems able to appreciate about her.
I like that Terra, unlike her mother, never succumbed to her father’s repeated attempts to beat her down. Instead, Terra copes by being an achiever. She’s athletic and in terrific shape. She gets good grades and has applied to an art school across the country, partly for its prestige, but more to get away from her father. She’s accepted, but her father doesn’t see any value in it.
Then one day, Terra and her mother have a minor car accident with Jacob, an Asian Goth classmate, and his mother who adopted him. It’s easy for Jacob to accept Terra; he has the scars left from a cleft palate.
Eventually the four of them travel to China, and everything begins to change for Terra and even her mother. Both acquire the confidence to be who they are, and who they will be, apart from who their father and husband had defined them to be.
Ms. Headley uses map metaphors and geocaching to illustrate Terra’s journey from Washington state to China and back again; from believing she is ugly to knowing that true beauty is on the inside; from not knowing to knowing who she is, who she loves, and what she wants to do and be.
Should you read this book? Yes! It's wonderful.
Justina Chen Headley's website.
Every Crooked Pot Review.