North of BeautifulTitle: North of Beautiful
Author: Justina Chen Headley
ISBN: 9780316025058
Pages: 373 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2009.

Not to brag or anything, but if you saw me from behind, you’d probably think I was perfect. I’m tall, but not too tall, with a ballerina’s long legs and longish nexk. My hair is naturally platinum blond, the kind that curls when I want it to and cascades behind my back in one sleek line when I don’t. While my face couldn’t launch a thousand ships, it has the power to make any stranger whip around for a second look. Trust me, this mixture of curiosity and revulsion is nothing Helen of Troy would ever have encountered. (1)

Justina Chen Headley draws readers in with this curious introduction. High school senior Terra Rose Cooper has lived her entire life with facial port-wine stain covering her right cheek. That hasn’t stopped her from snagging a boyfriend and a job at a local art studio. Terra however, feels the double pull of her housewife mother, who is intent on making her beautiful, and her emotionally abusive father who swears off spending any more money on the next miracle cure. Terra’s plans for escape to an east cost art school are crushed by her father’s insistence that he’s not paying for it. But a chance collision with a Goth boy vacationing in her town prompts her to change course in the life that she had mapped out for herself.

The themes of beauty only being skin deep/in the eye of the beholder and don’t judge a book by it’s cover are obvious, and I’m torn between whether it’s beaten over the readers head or just clearly delineated. Headley outlines the family relationships with clarity and heart, creating a world where readers can empathize with not only Terra and her mother, but also her father and brothers. These descriptions carry onto the setting as well, carrying readers at one point across the ocean to China and prompting yearning to see the varried country. Terra’s triumph at the end of the novel is one that readers will appreciate.