Something Sunday Book Review: “North of Beautiful” by Justina Chen Headley


My fabulous school librarian, Christy, recently referred me to a book on the 2009-2010 Lone Star list. 

“I still can’t get it out of my head,” she said, holding up a copy of North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. 

Now, I thoroughly respect my librarian friend and her opinions, but I hesitated to pick up the novel right away.  I appreciate good Chick Lit, but in all honesty I’m not typically drawn to that genre.  I worried that Christy’s recommendation would fall firmly into that category. 

And so I was happily surprised when I did—finally—open the book.

North of Beautiful centers around high school senior Terra, who has spent her entire life covering up the dramatic birthmark on her cheek and cowering in the wake of her verbally abusive father.  As she sets out to escape from her father’s control and find a means to negotiate society’s concept of beauty, Terra finds far more than she ever knew she was looking for. 

Headley explores the literal and figurative themes of navigation, lost and found, “True Beauty” and “True North” with grace and authority.  Though the frequent mapping metaphors may be a bit heavy-handed, they did serve to connect the many struggles in Terra’s life.  I found myself frustrated with Terra’s decisions; isn’t that, after all, the mark of a well-developed character?  Headley remains committed to Terra’s motivations and influences, forcing the reader to care about her even as we disagree with her missteps.  By the last page, our protagonist’s emotional journey is tangible, and marked by a moving, refreshing epiphany.

Thanks to Christy for gently nudging me toward North of Beautiful.  What a great navigator she is!

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