Everything changes for Terra and her mom when they crash into Norah and her son Jacob, adopted from China. While Norah is everything Terra's mother is not, a confident, successful business woman, the two immediately hit it off and are eager to share their talents with each other. Terra finds herself drawn to Jacob, who had his own facial deformity (a healed cleft lip) to wrestle with and seems to actually understand her. When the four of them travel to China, Terra and her mom to see Terra's brother and Norah and Jacob to visit the orphaned he was raised in, each comes back with a renewed sense of self.
Why I liked it: The characters in the novel were very realistic, each with their own flaws and redeeming qualities. The characters were also dynamic, growing and changing in the novel, sometimes in surprising ways. While Terra has a very visible "body issue," I think most people would relate to the idea of disliking a part of oneself and wishing was different. Traveling to another country also brought in the opportunity for the characters to appreciate how fortunate they all are, something I think we can as stand to be reminded of.
Classroom application: The novel encompasses so many important issues that should be addressed with teenagers, such as self confidence, self acceptance, maybe struggle of personal desires versus parents' desires, family relationships, and mental/verbal abuse.
The novel would be a great choice for literature circles dealing with any of those themes or for a genre study of realistic fiction. I would definitely add this to my classroom library and recommend this to female students, especially those in ill-matched/bad relationships or struggling with body image issues or making post-high school decisions in hopes that they would see some of Terra in themselves and draw strength from her character.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of North of Beautiful for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.
For more reading suggestions for students and teachers: