Tuesday, March 2, 2010

book review - north of beautiful by justina chen headley

now, i haven't written a book report since i was in the 6th grade, so forgive me if this post is unpolished and reeks of amateurism. i don't usually read book reviews, always fearing the reviewer will spoil the ending for me before i've had a chance to read the novel.

so, i've decided to always begin my book reviews with a short, two-sentence snapshot of my opinion.
that way, if you happen to be interested in reading the book, you can stop at those two sentences and the plot won't be ruined for you.

my two cent(ence)s - the book flows easily and i had a hard time putting it down. the novel is beautifully written and well-layered, and although the ending was predictable for me, i enjoyed it from beginning to end.

i don't normally read books about girls who feel sorry for themselves.
i actually hate "oh woe is me" as a genre, and thankfully north of beautiful does not fit into this category.
the main character, terra, is a high school student with a talent for art, an emotionally abusive father, and a large port-stain birthmark on her face. sure, her home life is unsatisfying (thank you, john hughes. that line will always be relevant when discussing YA), and yes, she does everything in her power to keep the world from seeing her birthmark, but she does not come off as an "oh, my life sucks because i'm ugly" whiner.

the book really takes off when she meets jacob, whom i loved instantly. even though terra has a boyfriend, she is attracted to who jacob is and how he makes her feel so at ease with herself. i found it obvious that she and jacob would end up together, but their journey is quite enjoyable: introduction by car accident, deep conversations, geocaching, vacation in china, mutual attraction, feelings of betrayal, show of contrition, all leading to the two of them as a new couple.

the book is filled with cartography references, but it's not so abstract or unexplained that the reader's mind drifts off from boredom. actually, the author does an amazing job of weaving these references in with the main, linear story. there is a subplot involving terra's parents (the father came off as a stereotype in the opening chapters, but felt more real as the book went on) that resolves itself in a way i felt a little too convenient.
also, the whole geocaching element struck me as tacked on, as if the author had finished the first draft and decided she needed to add something more. i could be totally wrong, but it didn't seem as organic as the rest of the novel.

of course, in the end, terra finds her inner strength and no longer feels the need to hide behind her make-up mask.
like i said, it was a predictable ending, but the book is incredibly well written. knowing the ending ahead of time didn't matter since each chapter is exquisitely crafted.
i highly recommend north of beautiful. it's a book worthy of a second read.


Anonymous said...

I am another adult that thrives on YA fiction - up until a few years ago it was almost all I read. I am in a book club now and don't really enjoy many of the selections and am determined to suggest one of my faves next time my turn comes. I will be watching and checking reviews especially for new/great reads. Loved ya at BBrat and I know I will like it here as well.

ikw said...

anonymous - i'd love to read any recommendations you have! like i said, i've been out of the YA loop for quite some time!