On My Bookshelf: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen

September 21, 2015

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen is a wonderful young adult novel that touches on so many important issues for teenage girls: self-confidence, body image, relationships with parents, friends, and boyfriends, and making decisions about the future.
Basic plot: Terra is a junior in high school taking senior classes in hopes of graduating early and heading off to college to escape her negative, controlling father, miserable due to his failed career as a cartographer. Terra's two older brothers are long gone and her stay at home mom just accepts his verbal abuse. Luckily, Terra's stud of a boyfriend, Erik, likes her despite the large birth mark on her face (known as a port wine stain), or at least likes the perfect body Terra maintains to make up for her imperfect face and her best friend Karin has stood by her since they were little girls in ballet class.

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:

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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  1. Thanks for this. It's one of the new novels we have in our classroom and I haven't had time to read it yet!

  2. Well hopefully this convinces you to move it up on your list. I give it two thumbs up, especially for dealing with some tough topics.

    Brynn Allison
    The Literary Maven

  3. Replies
    1. You are welcome! Be sure to check out some of my other reviews.

      Brynn Allison
      The Literary Maven