Thursday, February 26, 2009

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Terra Cooper is a control freak. She has found that it gives her comfort to control those things that she can - she has pushed herself through school to graduate a year early, and she is compulsively neat and tidy. She also works hard to control her appearance. Terra is very good-looking, except for the large port-wine stain covering her right cheek. She knows more about make-up then most girls her age, as she layers it on precisely every morning in order to try and cover her birthmark. She works out obsessively, to show the world that she is attractive despite the birthmark, and to show her father that she will not become like her obese mother.
But Terra cannot control her family. She cannot control the way that her father treats them, especially the way he maliciously harangues her mother. Her father has them all in his control, forcing Terra and her mother, and her brothers when they come home for the holidays, to tiptoe around him, being extra conscious of all his needs. When Terra meets Jacob, she realizes that feeling in control is not the same thing as knowing where you are going. And when she and her mother get a chance to go to China, without her father, Terra begins to realize that both she and her mother have been missing out on a lot of life because of him. Terra learns that she does not have to cover up her birthmark, or hide underneath her make-up. Her mother learns that she is stronger than she has been led to believe by her husband. They both come back changed.
I really enjoyed this book, and I loved all of the map symbolism that carries the book. Terra's father is a disgraced cartographer - she has grown up surrounded by maps. Headley uses the map theme throughout the book, as Terra finds her own map for her life. It is a very effective way of drawing the reader along through the story. I also loved the characters, all of them were richly detailed. Terra herself is more complex than the beginning of the book (or many plot summaries) would have you believe. This was an easy book to read, but it deals with some tough issues. It would definitely be enjoyed by high school age girls, and would probably be fine for most eighth graders as well.
I am excited to have gotten a chance to read this new book - it just came out February 1st. It also qualifies for a few challenges. The first is the New Author Challenge - I have never read any books by Headley, but I will definitely be on the lookout for them now, and will surely recommend them. I am also using this for the A to Z Reading Challenge ("H" book) and the RYOB Challenge.

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