This week’s book review comes from PCTELA member Amy Walter, an 8th grade reading specialist at Grove City Middle School, in Grove City, PA.
North of Beautiful is my “go to” book for anyone. When someone asks me, whether it be a young adult or an adult-adult, for a book recommendation I usually give them my default list of books which I personally feel are engaging and are of very high literary quality. Other books in my list include: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (coincidentally both authors will be our PCTELA ’14 keynotes), And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky, Dear Zoe by Phillip Beard, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.
But North of Beautiful is one that really sticks in my mind. Author Justina Chen Headley read an excerpt from this book at the 2008 ALAN convention in Philadelphia for her upcoming novel to be published in 2009. The passage she read, found on page two is: “Good-intentioned or not, every remark made me bristle. If you don’t rush up to the grossly overweight with a ‘Hey, I know someone who weighs three hundred pounds, too, then why was it acceptable to remark about my face?”
For some reason hearing the author read her own words struck me in a powerful way. I feel as though this passage summed up the essence of this book. Protagonist Terra would be perfect “if only.” She is beautiful “except for.” Terra is a beautiful girl in every way, but she has a very obvious “flaw.” A port-wine stain on her cheek is what makes her stand out in a crowd. This is her definitive “if only,” and not only is she reminded of this every time she looks in the mirror, or every time her mother tells her of the next innovative and oftentimes experimental treatment, but what perfects strangers remark to her on an ongoing basis. Throughout her life Terra is given the constant reminder that people don’t see her, but rather they see her birthmark.
The book is a coming of age novel of a girl who has to come to terms with her identity, and realize that true beauty does comes from within. The premise may seem a bit trite but the book surely is not. Headley is able to write with such powerful prose in a way that is so beautiful yet so sad at the same time. This book nails the theme of self-acceptance, and how cruel the world truly can be.
I would recommend this book, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to anyone who needs reassurance that the world can be a terrible place for those who are different. I would also recommend it to anyone who needs reassurance that the harsh world will make you stronger if you are able to get through it.