Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mock Printz 2010: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

Title: North of Beautiful
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316025058
Starred reviews in: Booklist

Summary:
Terra Cooper, 16, is a high school senior and artist ready to graduate and hoping to study art in a college far away from a home ruled by her sarcastic and cruel cartographer father. Terra’s older brothers have escaped Mr. Cooper’s verbal abuse while Terra, and especially her mother, Lois, suffer it daily. For Terra, his jabs focus on the port-wine stain on Terra’s face and her art-- her collages. Terra covers her face in layers of make-up, covers her insecurities and fears behind a strong fa├žade, an unfulfilling relationship and a work out regime that keeps her body in top shape. She reveals inner turmoil and hidden parts of herself in the layers and pieces that make up her collages. A near fatal accident and these browbeaten Cooper women’s fates collide with that of Jacob, an Asian-American teen who was abandoned in China because of a cleft-lip and Jacob's strong, business minded and kind-hearted adoptive mother, Norah. While Norah and Jacob have their own family crisis to deal with, they bond quickly with Terra and Lois, offering support and friendship, and in the case of Terra and Jacob, something more. Save a lie through omission (Terra's couple status), Terra and Jacob see each other for who they are, not looking past their scars and stains but appreciating them as part of the package. Together with their mothers, they travel outside of their comfort zones and to China. They work through emotional landmines, push past barriers, face fears and discover the true meaning of beauty.

Review:

Headley’s tale of self-acceptance and personal growth is entirely engaging and wonderfully written. Every character, from Terra to her over-worked and distanced eldest brother Merc, is well-crafted and believable. Like it’s protagonist, North of Beautiful is richly layered and Headley manages to piece together a strong, satisfying read. Her description of China comes alive as a character in its own right. The mapping metaphors fit seamlessly and enhance rather than distract from the story. Readers root for Terra and Lois and their journey from under Mr. Cooper’s thumb and the insecurities drilled into them there. With these women, the readers are reminded of the different ways beauty manifests itself and that appreciating these incarnations (a kindness, a smile, self-acceptance, uniqueness, true understanding), is just another form of beauty.

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