Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL by Justina Chen Headley

What is true beauty? Everyone who loves and cares about Terra Cooper tells her she's beautiful, but that doesn't erase the port-wine birthmark the covers the right side of her face. After years of trying laser treatments, lotions, and promising beauty creams, she now simply uses make-up to hide the truth and try to make herself feel normal.

Being determined and driven has always been a way for Terra to cope. She is athletic and stays in great shape by running in the summer and snowshoeing through the hills in the winter. Terra also uses her artistic talent as an outlet for expressing her appreciation for the beauty she sees everywhere but in herself. An excellent student, she will be completing high school a year early and has been accepted to her first choice college. That school is on the East coast and will give her the opportunity she wants to get away from her tiny town in Washington state and the father she never seems to be able to please.

Terra and her two older brothers grew up fighting a constant battle to please their father. Claudius and Merc are both gone now leaving Terra on her own to run interference between her domineering father and her timid, overweight mother. Over the years she has watched as her beautiful mother grew in weight but shrunk in her ability to stand up to her husband's constant criticism. They are a family with tremendous emotional baggage, but they've become experts at pushing their feelings aside and soldiering on without acknowledging the pain.

Believing college is her only possible escape, Terra is not expecting the empowering freedom she discovers when she accidentally meets someone new. Jacob's truck and her car collide on an ice street joining the two teens and their mothers in an uncommon friendship. The support and encouragement they provide for each other enables them all to grow and move beyond their personal obstacles.

Justina Chen Headley, author of GIRL OVERBOARD and NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES), has outdone herself with NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. It's hard to comprehend how Headley could put so much into one novel. Terra's story encompasses so many issues, readers from all backgrounds and experiences will take some meaning away from the book. Just like the collages Terra so lovingly creates, Headley builds this novel one interesting and thoughtful layer at a time.

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