Reviewed by Mason Shelden
In Search of True North
What if all someone ever wanted was to leave behind all they ever knew? North of Beautiful tells the story of a girl who only knows she wants to leave, but can’t see just what she might be leaving behind. Written by Justina Chen Headley, North of Beautiful was published in 2009 by Little, Brown and Company. The realistic fiction book takes place in Methow Valley, a small, ski-resort tourist town in modern Washington. Terra Cooper, a talented, intelligent high schooler, struggles to escape the forceful guidance of her bitter father and the discrimination she receives from the world around her. She believes the only way to free herself is to follow in the footsteps of her brothers before her, and get as far away as she can, from the life she lives.
It’s during a Christmas family reunion when Elisa, a woman seeing Terra’s oldest brother, is first introduced. She is confident, successful, and unafraid, everything Terra has always wanted to be. Elisa is North of Beautiful’s best character, because she is daunted by no one and is not afraid to show her opinions. When Elisa first meets Terra’s father, she refuses to be stepped on and hurt by his disdainful attitude, and even fights back against the harsh way he treats his family. Elisa becomes a powerful influence to Terra’s life, encouraging her to stand up, and let the world accept her for who she is, as an artist, a dreamer, and a daughter.
Terra’s life revolves around her two biggest struggles. At home, she has to defend herself and her mother against her father’s barbed words and verbal abuse. In public, she hides the port-wine stain birthmark that covers the right half of her face, along with her true personality, because she fears people will judge her by them alone. She feels like she truly fits in nowhere, and so she maps out a course to escape her home and get to anywhere else. Everything changes for her when she meets Jacob, who questions Terra’s chosen directions and everything she believed she wanted. With his friendship, she realizes that the things she planned for herself were not the ones she truly wanted, and so she discovers ‘True North’, her real path to happiness.
In North of Beautiful, Headley uses map making terms to describe the course of the plotline. This follows the carefully planned steps of Terra’s life, as she forges a path through the chaos around her. She finds out that the best things in life aren’t guided or controlled, and that they just happen to those who deserve them. She sees that sometimes, just following a path to see where it goes is worth more than a mapped trail. “Getting lost is just another way of saying ‘going exploring.’” (156) Jacob mentions this, when Terra steps off of her familiar, time-worn trail for the very first time, into something new and different.
If I were to rate this book, I would give it four stars out of a possible five. It has a very deep and moving story, but still keeps plenty of comedy and many triumphs. I would recommend it to anyone who is a little uncertain about what course to take, in their future, especially if they are in high school. The book is all about curiosity, perseverance, and developing as a person, three skills that are most important in those going through school before college. If this book sounds interesting, I would also recommend I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, and Nothing But the Truth And a Few White Lies, also by Justina Chen Headley. Thank you for taking the time to read this review, and I hope you might just try this book someday.
Headley, Justina Chen. North of Beautiful. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.