Friday, October 1, 2010

North of Beautiful

by Justina Chen Headley

Dedication: "For Mama, who is everything true and beautiful"

First paragraph: "Not to brag or anything, but if you saw me from behind, you'd probably think I was perfect. I'm tall, but not too tall, with a ballerina's long legs and longish neck. My hair is naturally platinum blond, the kind that curls when I want it to and cascades behind my back in one sleek line when I don't. While my face couldn't launch a thousand ships, it has the power to make any stranger whip around for a second look. Trust me, this mixture of curiosity and revulsion is nothing Helen of Troy would ever have encountered."

Review: I'm infinitely impressed with this book. Terra, a mostly typical teenage girl, has spent her life hiding from her own face. Seeking treatment after treatment for a way to finally become beautiful and losing her self more and more with each failure. Terra is defined by her birthmark, a port wine stain, that covers half her face. Throughout this story she learns that Beauty isn't just skin deep and Headley conveys this message in a beautiful and touching way.

I'll admit. I was very skeptical when I first started this book. It seemed to me like Terra was just going to whine and complain throughout the whole book and never do anything to help herself. And then, suddenly, it all makes sense.

Having had some amateur experience at developing a character that, to some, comes off as immediately unlikeable if you don't know her or the story, I was able to see the courage it must have taken Headley to write the story the way she did. Of course, if you'd been introduced to the Why's before the Who, I don't think it would have been as impacting. There really was just one moment when it finally all clicked and I thought, "Oh. So this is why she is the way she is." The rest of the story sort of revolves around that moment. Why does Terra tick the way she does and will she ever be able to change her perspective.

There were a few moments when Terra describes her feelings of being in another country, being a foreigner surrounded by foreign customs and foreign life. The wording she uses is so beautiful and humbling. It made me tear up and want to immediately get on a plane and make my way to other parts of the world. Who cares if I don't know the native language? Enjoy the world that's out there because there is so much to see.

Finally, I loved the ending. Without saying too much, I teared up again when she was visiting an orphanage and saw a girl there. The things she said. The feelings she expressed.

Good book. I'm so glad I didn't stop reading it after the first few pages. Terra's story is one I'll remember for a long time.

Click here for Justina Chen Headley's website.

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