North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

(Cover picture courtesy of Wester Library Blog.)

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 unmistakably “flawed” face.  Terra secretly plans to leave her small, stifling town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by 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?

North of Beautiful is a unique, thought-provoking novel that is definitely rare in the YA genre.  It’s full of complex themes like the true meaning of beauty, the power of words and the importance of choice.  Justina Chen Headley’s novel is a great one, but the one thing I did not like was the often confusing references to cartography.  I understood most of it after reading the book a couple of times, but there were plenty of obscure references that I had to look up.

Terra is a very interesting character that is obviously affected by the birthmark on her cheek and her father’s constant verbal abuse.  As the book goes on, we learn much more about her past and we realize just how much she’s changed by the end.  Terra changes for the better throughout the novel, with readers cheering her on every step of the way.

Unlike a lot of YA novels, the growing romance between Terra and Jacob feels very authentic.  They absolutely do not fall in love at first sight, but their affection grows throughout the novel, especially when Terra and her mom go with Jacob and his mom to China.  Jacob was probably my favourite character in North of Beautiful because he was so different from the usual YA love interest.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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