North of Beautiful

Goodreads Synopsis:

As he continued to stare, I wanted to point to my cheek and remind him, But you were the one who wanted this, remember? You’re the one who asked-and I repeat-Why not fix your face?

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?

Written in lively, artful prose, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley has woven together a powerful novel about a fractured family, falling in love, travel, and the meaning of true beauty.

It is my type?: This is a resounding yes. Now, though this was not, for me, the type of story to keep me up into deep-dark hours of the night, dying to know what comes next, it is still what I would consider one of those–should be read (if you have the time and opportunity to)–type of stories. In this way I can compare it to a recent read of mine, the classic Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s story similarly took me a little longer than usual to finish. But I think sometimes more plot-driven novels are just easier to get through. Both Anne’s and Terra’s story seemed to me, more of the wisdom-giving kind: the kind of story that makes you stop often after having read a sentence, in order to consider it fully. This is why the journey’s a bit longer, but definitely no less enjoyable, and certainly no less meaningful. Just meaningful in a different way. It was less entertainment, more contemplation. The story was moving, lovely, and wise, and the last few hundred pages or so really picked up; I love when a book ends with good momentum.

Memorable bit(s): I couldn’t let this post live without at least mentioning that Headley is a master of metaphor. I won’t say more than that, because it would hardly live up to actually reading the story from start to finish, metaphor progression and all.

As I wrote up above, so many nuggets of wisdom–large and small–revealed themselves during the course of Terra’s story. Here are a few of my favorites. Be forewarned, the last quote from this section may be considered spoiler-y.

“Inertia is so easy–don’t fix what’s not broken. Leave well enough alone. So we end up accepting what is broken, mistaking complaining for action, procrastination for deliberation.”

“China’s trying to figure out what it wants to be. And that’s tough to do, especially if you’ve never had any choices before.”

“I slowed down, appreciating the unexpected vignettes as they revealed themselves to me: . . . Three sun-faded lanterns hanging gaily in a row, like old women who still loved to dress up.”

Finally,

“Let the glossy spreads have their heart-stopping, head-turning kind of beauty. Give me the heart-filling beauty instead. Jolie laide, that’s what I would choose. Flawed, we’re truly interesting, truly memorable, and yes, truly beautiful.”

Recommendation: This is a book for girls and women of all ages, specifically because Terra’s isn’t the only story of identity and discovery that gets told, beautifully, in this book. I’m really glad to have stumbled upon it, and I will carry those wisdom-nuggets with me forever. Or, at least, if ever I forget some of them, always within dog-earned reach.

Published: February 2009 by Little, Brown Young Readers.

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