It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper.She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body.
But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father.
When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob's path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?
Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful is just beautiful, pure and simple. The plot, the characters, the themes... all these seperate aspects come together to form the perfect collage of a story.
Diction choice is lively, quirky, and even humourously wry at times. Something about Chen Headley's narrative style flows beautifully; it sounds so natural in first person past tense from Terra Cooper. This is one strong female protagonist whose voice transcends exceptionally; all at once cynical, but naive - pretty, but harsh - "jolie laide". It really draws the reader in. Somehow the small, seemingly insignificant details offer deeper insight into the story, the characters, their lives, tearing down another barrier between reader and character to bring the two closer.
Appearances versus reality is a pretty integral running theme in North of Beautiful - True North and Magnetic North, masks and one's true face, costumes and one's true personality... appearing beautiful on the outside, and the true beauty inside. In today's society where a lot of emphasis is placed on outer beauty, North of Beautiful provides a refreshing glimpse past the superficial into the underlying real beauty. Even more magical though, is the fact that [the book] doesn't outright define beauty - through the journey which readers take with the characters, the audience is able to derive one for themselves. To each their own; after all, beauty is all in the eye of the beholder.
The characters here are portrayed majestically. Small quirks and imperfections add realism, aspects with which we can all relate. Terra is an intriguing leading lady; a bit of an overachiever, trying to finish high school a year early and the likes - but on a psychological level, she's trying to compensate for her flaws (namely her birth marked face). Haven't we all felt that way at one point or another? Insignificant, lacking, insufficient... it's truly amazing to watch her journey from cowering in fear of her father, of wanting to stand up for her mother but being unable to, to a strong, independent young woman. And even more amazing to see is her mother's own transformation from a meek housewife under the iron thumb of her husband to becoming her own person. Their relationship portrayed here is one of the most beautiful and precious out there - the bond between mother and daughter.
Jacob, oh, Jacob. What can I say? He's awesome, and it would be so cool to know someone like him in real life. The characterization as a whole was done exceptionally well. Even the minor characters felt realistic, relatable to. The only thing is one minor character seemed a little different than what was expected from descriptions in the start of the narrative, but then again, we discover aspects of people we hadn't realized all the time, especially at this age. Her father - oh, what an aggravating character!
That's how you know an author's got the golden touch though; if it elicits an actual emotion towards a fictional character, then the job's been done. The names are ingenious, all fitting in perfectly with the whole map/cartography theme. In fact, running metaphors to maps and the craft thereof are carried throughout the entire book very successfully, which is more than can be said for most attempts. And finding out about geocaches was pretty exciting too. In fact, that's when I realized - wow, I'm actually learning some stuff about maps and geocaching in here - and voila! Another successful aspect of North of Beautiful; it manages to be educational without the reader initially even realizing it.
The plot - such an incredible journey! Such wonderful descriptions of the setting, of the events unfolding. The realism really pulls you into the story, carries you along with the journey. There are books you'll stay up late into the night to read, checking the clock every once in a while, promising yourself, "just one more chapter!" With North of Beautiful, I checked the time - only 11 o'clock pm. The next time I looked at the clock, it was almost 1 in the morning. Chen Headley's prose is simply captivating.
Terra Cooper's collages are unique; she is an artist. North of Beautiful is like a collage, bringing together so many seemingly unrelated elements - self discovery, Goth boy, geo caching etc. - and making them fit around a focal point. Justina Chen Headley has pulled off something of True Beauty here. North of Beautiful is more than just a story; it's a piece of art.