North of Beautiful – Justine Chen Headley

North of BeautifulTitle: North of Beautiful
Author: Justine Chen Headley

ISBN: 9780316025065
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 373
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $10 (paperback)

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 850

Annotation: Terra has always been aware of her flaws – her father points it out plenty enough, but a chance meeting with Jacob and his mother changes assumptions she had about herself and her life.

Plot Summary: Terra Rose Cooper is stunning. A tall blonde with a trim body, she could easily be a model. Except for one thing. Terra was born with a port-wine stain birthmark that covers the right cheek of her face and she is ashamed of it. Her self-esteem suffers from it as well as being under the thumb of her controlling father. Terra longs to get away from her small Washington town and it seems like all her dreams are going to come true when she gets an acceptance letter from Williams. However, her father will not allow her to go and her future seems like she is forever stuck under her father’s thumb like the stain permanently present on her face. When she meets an odd, Chinese, goth boy – her life and her trajectory changes. Will Terra find her path?

Critical Evaluation: It took me awhile to get into the story but, I’m glad I push on because North of Beautiful is a wonderful story of self-acceptance and beauty. The characters all have their problems and their various relationships add intrigue as well lends itself to the overall story – the mother’s relationship to their father, Terra’s two brothers who seem to be never there, Terra’s relationship with Erik and Karin. I also really loved the play on words. Terra’s father is a cartographer and the book is filled with map imagery of charting lives and borders prompting lots of geography wordplay adding another layer to the story. My favorite part is their journey to China. I’ve only been there in 2007 and it was my first time over there and travelling overseas. So it was nice to read the experiences that Terra and her mom had over there. Like seeing the hutongs and comparing it with the modern China and walking the Great Wall. Not to mention, geocaching. I never heard of it and now am very interested in finding more about it. Overall, a wonderful, reflective story.

Author Bio: Justina Chen Headley grew up near Buffalo, NY and San Francisco. After attending Stanford University she spent time in New York and Sydney, Australia before settling near Seattle, Washington with her husband and two children. When Justina is not writing she works with StrataGem, a consulting group she helped start which aids women and children’s non-profit organizations. (via book jacket)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Diversity of Cultures

Booktalking Ideas: Geocaching, themes of self-acceptance and beauty, diverse characters, finding your path

Challenge Issues: To defend this book, I would bring up the starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly not to mention it was a nominee in several state book awards.

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