Book Review: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley


Terra Cooper can’t wait to escape her small-town life in Washington state’s Methow Valley. She feels her true self is carefully concealed there, just as the port-wine stain birthmark on her face is concealed under heavy make-up. Terra dreams of being an artist, although she’s not confident in her own ability to let go and create meaningful works. She pushes herself to excel at school, so she can graduate early and escape to college and a life away from her verbally abusive father, just like her brothers before her.

When she wrecks her car while driving home from yet another surgery on her birthmark, she has to spend her carefully hoarded college funds on repairs. Just when she resigns herself to limiting her future, she meets a Chinese-American goth boy named Jacob, who challenges her to see herself, her family and her art in a new way.

A powerful book for mothers and daughters to read together, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley is about self-discovery, finding the true meaning of beauty, and learning to trust in yourself. Maps play an important role in the story—literally as they affect Terra’s dad, who is a cartographer, and metaphorically, as a symbol for helping us find our way. This is Terra’s story, but it’s also about Jacob and both teens’ moms and finding the strength to overcome obstacles that arise in life.

I found myself savoring North of Beautiful, lingering over the beautifully written prose that asks a lot of questions and gives no easy answers. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school.

Find out what author Justina Chen Headley has to say about her book and her writing life this Wednesday, February 11, as she answers questions for Mother Daughter Book Club. com in an interview.

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