Thursday, July 09, 2009
North of Beautiful
Justina Chen Headley
from Publishers WeeklyLaced with metaphors about maps and treasure, Headley's (Girl Overboard) finely crafted novel traces a teen's uncharted quest to find beauty. Two things block Terra's happiness: a port-wine stain on her face and her verbally abusive father, a failed cartographer who views her as ugly and belittles the collages she creates. A car accident brings her together with Jacob, an Asian-born adoptee with unconventional ideas. Besides introducing her to new pursuits like geocaching, a treasure-hunting game using GPS, Jacob ends up traveling with her when they have an opportunity to visit China together with their mothers. The trip, far-reaching on many different levels, gives Terra a chance to rethink the past and re-map her goals. Taking readers to America's Northwest, then to China and back again, the author confidently addresses very large, slippery questions about the meaning of art, travel, love and of course beauty. All of her characters hold secrets; finding them out will be as rewarding as Terra's discoveries of caches.
When I was a teenager my bedroom walls weren’t plastered with posters of teen idols. Instead, I had maps everywhere. My parents subscribed to National Geographic and I loved the issues that came with maps. You’re probably wondering why I mentioned that, since it makes me look like a dork. But Terra, the main character in North of Beautiful, also has a bedroom wallpapered with maps. Okay, so it’s the room she inherited (maps included) from her older brother. But still. Maps. *swoon*
Enough with the maps.
North of Beautiful has a lot going on, despite the fact that it’s an engrossing and quick read. It addresses inner vs. outer beauty, the confidence to be yourself, the meaning of true friendship, verbal abuse, the question of what art is, and all sorts of other things. Yet, while all of these issues are present in the book, the author doesn’t bash you over the head with them (well, except maybe the stand up and be yourself bit). This book is the story of Terra’s journey towards self-acceptance, and it’s fun to go along for the ride.