Born with a port-wine stain birthmark covering her entire right cheek, Terra Rose Cooper is ready to leave her stifling, small Washington town where everyone knows her for her face. With her critical, reproachful father and an obese mother who turns to food to deflect her father's verbal attacks, home life for Terra isn't so great either. Fueled by her artistic desires, she plans to escape to an East Coast college, thinking this is her true path. When her father intercepts her acceptance letter, Terra is pushed off-course, and she is forced to confront her deepest insecurities. After an ironically fortuitous car accident, Terra meets Jacob, a handsome but odd goth Chinese boy who was adopted from China as a toddler. Jacob immediately understands Terra's battle with feeling different. When Terra's older brother invites her and her mother to visit him in Shanghai, Jacob and his mother also join them on their journey, where they all not only confront the truth about themselves, but also realize their own true beauty. North of Beautiful is the engaging third YA novel by Justina Chen Headley. This is a gorgeously-written, compelling book featuring universal themes of defining true beauty, family bonds, personal strength, and love.
Details: North of Beautiful by Justin Chen Headley, 373 pages, 4.09 stars on Goodreads.
My Thoughts: Oh man. We're doing this "my thoughts" thing literally, right? Because as soon as I finished the book, that brilliant, eloquent thought popped up: "Oh man." Which, to be honest, is a lot more brilliant and eloquent than what I usually think ("OMG PUPPY SO CUTE. ME EAT COOKIE NOW.") In any case, this book is definitely worth of an "oh man". Also the five awards it won, but the "oh man", too.
The narrator, Terra Rose Cooper, has one of those voices that are so nice and easy and entertaining to read, but at the same time is somehow real and raw and emotional. From the hooking first sentence (because, oh yes, that is how you start a novel), the voice drags you in and in and in, and the next thing you know, you're crying for Terra and laughing for Terra, and after a while, you're pretty darn sure you are Terra.
When I first started reading about the countless (and futile) laser surgeries Terra has tried, and the thick make-up she has to wear, I didn't quite get that when she said birthmark, she meant a birthmark. I had to Google Image search "port wine stain" before I got it. If you're not familiar with those, do it now. And you can see why it really, really sucks for Terra.
But naturally, that's not enough. Terra's dad is controlling and abusive in a different way than in other books I've read, or families I've met. He doesn't physically yell, but he constantly makes thinly-veiled cutting remarks, attacking you verbally and shattering your resolve.
Enter Hot Boy. Every YA book should have one, in my opinion. More than one works too. But anyway, the Hot Boy is this book is a goth, adopted Chinese guy named Jacob. And he's sweet and sensitive and funny and cute and lovely and amazing. Plus? He totally understands her and her insecurities because he has to deal with similar ones as well.
All in all, this is a super amazing book that you absolutely must read. As in, right now. Five smilies out of five.