North of Beautiful

This is really late. But we’re going to pretend it isn’t. Okay? Okay. Good. It’s Day 9 of the 30 Day Challenge: A book I thought I wouldn’t really like bu ended up loving. That book is North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley.


It’s hard not to notice Terra Cooper. She’s tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakable “flawed” face. Terra secretly plans to leave her small, stifling town in the northwest and escape her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob’s path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?

I picked this book up from the local library on a whim a couple years ago, mostly because the chapter titles were all references to maps, there is a reference to Helen of try in the first paragraph, and the story takes place north of Seattle. Got some mad love for Washington. (Side bar, here in Washington, we don’t call Washington D.C. Washington. It’s D.C. If they didn’t want the confusion they shouldn’t have made us a state). I wasn’t expecting much from this. But, the story is much more interesting than it seems.

Let’s talk about Terra. She’s insecure. She has a perfect body, and she’ll be the first admit it, but she has this  body because she works hard to get it. And she works hard to get it because she had such extreme dysmorphia for her face, she is obsessive about making everything else perfect. What’s wrong with her face? She has a port wine stain. This is when I started getting interested, by the way. Her port wine stain, a birth mark, covers about half of her face. It’s smooth (some stains are not so smooth) but it’s dark. She’s grown up hearing people tell her how pretty she will be if the laser treatments work.  The laser treatments never work, so she still wears a pound of heavy make up every day to cover it. Terra’s boyfriend, not Jacob, is no help. He’s just your average white guy. He’s embarrassed by Terra’s face too, but she’s never met anyone who wasn’t so she assume it’s normal. And she’s embarrassed by her face, so she doesn’t expect him to be okay with it at first. But their relationship doesn’t actually have any substance anyway. Then there’s her father. ‘controlling’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. He’s abusive to her and her mother. I’m pretty sure it’s exclusively emotional abuse, but that’s still terrible. He’s as asshole.

There there are big chunks of the plot the synopsis doesn’t even mention. First, Terra is an artist. She makes collages, and she’s pretty talented. She doesn’t think she is, and doesn’t like to show people her work, but she that’s a huge part of the story and a huge part of who she is. Then there’s China. China is a huge part of the story. Terra’s dad is a cartographer (hence, her name and all other map references in the book). He found a map that suggested the Chinese actually found America first, but it was proved to be a fake and he let it ‘ruin’ his career. So he hates China. There is a map of every part of the world hanging in their house, but he deliberately left out China. And part of the book takes place in China.

Which leads me to Jacob. Jacob is one of my favorite characters in a  book ever. His story line is really interesting, and he’s just a really cool character. That ‘unexpected collision’ is meant quite literally. Terra and her mother are driving home from another unsuccessful laser treatment in Seattle (which they didn’t tell Terra’s dad about). Leavenworth gets quite icy during the winter, so when they go to stop for coffee Terra ends up swerving, almost hitting a guy, and running into a Range Rover. Terrible day so far, but this is where Jacob comes in. Jacob is a boy who was adopted from China when he was very young. Which is super rare. He has a scar on his face (from a clef lip correction surgery, we later find out) and becomes the first person in existence who appears not to notice Terra’s port wine stain. The car belongs to his mom, a really nice blonde lady who is the very image of an independent woman who don’t need no man (which is shocking for women who live in an abusive house).

Anyway, Jacob is the best. He’s someone who’s been stared at his whole life, so he’s come up with this really great philosophy. He knows people are going to stare, she he decides why they’re going to stare. Going to a small town? Dress like a goth. He sees most clothes as costumes. I like that.

Anyway. The story is wonderful, the execution is great, and i felt slightly bad for doubting it after I read it. But you can’t blame me. The synopsis was terrible.

What about you guys? Have a book you thought you wouldn’t like, but loved?

2 thoughts on “North of Beautiful

  1. Pingback: Favorite Characters Vol. 1 | A Cavalcade of Literature

  2. Pingback: 30 Day Challenge Archive | A Cavalcade of Literature

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