Book Review: North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley is a book about a girl named Terra Rose Cooper. Terra is in her final year of high school, dating the best looking guy in school, and on the fast track to graduate. She works at a local art gallery with three old women and they convinced her to apply to Williams College, a private liberal arts college with a great art program. But Terra’s father will only pay for Washington State where her two other brothers went to school. But Terra is not who she seems, under her perfectly toned body and cakes of makeup on her face, she hides a port wine stain that covers one side of her face. She is ashamed of her face and when a guest speaker at her school suggests a new treatment for Terra to try, she can’t help but get her hopes up. Problem is, Terra’s dad is emotionally abusive to her and her entire family. His abuse started about two years before the death of her mother’s sister Susannah. Her helpless mother and her have to hide the surgery from him. Will Terra be able to change her face and get away from this horrible household.

*
*
*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Terra and her mom drive up to Portland to try this surgery out. After hours of being zapped with a laser, when they drive off Terra’s port wine stain is still there. Terra’s mom, who is very overweight, suggests that they stop at a coffee shop on the way home for coffee and scones. Terra drives into the parking lot, sees a teenage boy standing in front of his car, and hits a patch of ice sending her careening towards the boy. She smashes into his car, and jumps out of the car trying to look for the boy.

He is standing next to his car, unhurt, laughing at her freaking out. He is a chinese boy, named Jacob, dressed in all black with goth makeup on. His mother comes running out of the store, a white woman with blonde hair, making sure her son is not hurt. After she assess him, she sees Terra’s mother still sitting in the car. She goes over to check on her and invites them into the shop to discuss insurance information. After the information is discussed Nora, Jacob’s mother, offers to drive Terra and her mother, Lois, home. They except their offer and during the car ride, they learn that Jacob is adopted from China and had a cleft lip when he was a baby. And they happen to be vacationing in Terra’s town, a great place for skiing, over the winter vacation.

When they arrive at the Cooper’s household, Terra’s father is sitting in the living room brooding over their absence, but puts on a fake smile for the Freemonts (Jacob and Nora). Nora is astounded by the home made wreath hanging on their front door for the Christmas reason discussing the details with Lois. Jacob helps Terra carry groceries into the house and sees her Dad’s map collection. He is a cartographer and has old maps hanging around the house, but Jacob notices right away that the map of China is missing.

Earlier, we learned that Terra’s father was a reverred cartographer and found a map that would prove that the chinese discovered America before Christopher Columbus. The map turned out to be a fake and her father slumped into a brooding, abusive, lifestyle because of his fallout. Terra shushes Jacob and later they make plans to hang out when he comes back on vacation. Terra’s father blows up at Terra and Lois when the Freemonts leave, but not in a yelling way, but with snide comments and hurt feelings.

The next day, Lois and Terra go to the Freemont’s hotel to make wreaths. When they get there, Jacob and Terra leave the parents and Jacob’s little brother, Trevor, Terra gives Jacob a tour of her town, bringing him to her studio in the gallery. Here we learn that the old women who run the gallery have made Terra a show, with her father as a guest speaker. She gets the women to take her out of the show, stating that what she does isn’t really art, a statement her father is always making.

So Christmas break arrives and we learn the Terra’s two brothers are coming home for the first time in two years. Claudius lives on the east coast and Merc (surprise!) lives in China. Merc brings his girlfriend home, Elise, and when she suggest that Lois sit down and relax instead of running around after everyone else, Terra’s father blows up. Elise doesn’t realize at first the pointed comments her father is making at Lois’ weight, but when she does Merc insists on leaving. Claudius threatens to hit the father, and crushes a glass bulb he is holding in his hands, sending them to the hospital while Merc gets away. Terra realizes that Claudius is not a klutz, but has purposely been hurting himself to distract Terra’s father from lashing out at her mother.

That night, Terra is alone in the house. She hears her doorbell ring and runs down, thinking it is Jacob. When she opens the door, Erik is standing there with his cousin. She doesn’t have her makeup covering her port wine stain on. Erike is embarrassed of her, and Terra realizes it is the same look her father has when he has to introduce her mother to people. Terra plays it off, making his cousin like her for her wit and she is not embarrassed about her face. When she goes upstairs she sends Merc a scathing email for leaving.

In the morning she wakes up for her early morning run, although it is Christmas morning. When she gets to her normal trail Jacob is there and the two get scared of each other. We learn the Jacob is an avid geocacher, when you take a GPS with set coordinates to find an object located in those coordinates, and there is one on Terra’s property.

Two days later, Terra receives an email from Merc with tickets to China to visit over spring break. Terra and Lois aren’t sure about going. The next morning instead of Terra going for a run, she sets out geocaching but instead runs into Jacob and they go to a coffee shop. They run into Terra’s friend Karin, who is freaked out by Jacob’s goth appearance. They leave and head back to the Freemont’s where Norah tells the Cooper’s that they will accompany them to China, they have been meaning to go back there to try to find Jacob’s birth parents. Also, Norah’s exhusband is getting married that week, China seems to be a good distraction.

Between Spring break and winter break is a short chapter, focusing on Karin’s disapproval of Jacob. Terra’s father’s sulking around the house while they plan for their trip, and Terra not being able to break up with Erik.

Spring break comes and Lois and Terra meet Jacob and Norah at the airport. They begin the trip in Shanghai, meeting Terra’s brother Merc outside of the airport. Jacob and Norah are dropped off at their hotel, which is conveniently the same building Merc works in. we learn later that Merc and Elisa have broken up.

The next dat Terra and Lois head over to the Fremont’s hotel and Norah is waiting there ready to have clothes made for them. Jacob and Terra head out after Terra is measured and head to Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden and after Terra realizes it is a tourist trap, she lets Jacob show her around the real Shanghai, the dirty city but all with its wonder.

The next morning we find out after dinner the night before, the tailor told Lois she was too fat, and she agreed, realizing she has to get her health in check. Lois also tells Terra that she has to be fair to Jacob and to Erik. Terra decides she will break up with Erik when she gets back home.

The next morning, The Cooper’s head over to the Fremont’s hotel and get an early breakfast with them. After breakfast they head to a park. Norah joins a tai chi group and we see Lois come out of her shell, joining in for the fun. Terra and Jacob leave, knowing Lois would be self concious if they stood there watching. In the park there is a geocache and the pair finds it.

At dinner that night, Merc finally joins the traveling crew and Terra learns that he will not be able to come with Beijing and Xi’an with them, and the two will have to travel alone. The Cooper’s decide to do Beijing in two days alone and then meet up with the Fremonts in Hangzhou. In the days leading up to the Fremonts leaving, Jacob and Terra grow closer, holding hands and having those wonderful moments of book romance. The night before the Fremonts leave, Jacob and Terra share there first kiss, a kiss i can’t elaborate on but one you must read.

After the Fremonts leave, Lois and Terra travel to the Forbidden City and there they realized even emperors fall, even their power isn’t absolute. Even her father will crumble. The next morning they travel to the Great Wall and Terra and her mother find a geocache that Jacob had given Terra the coordinates to before he left. Lois reveals that Susannah, her sister, was a geocacher and that she was the one who must have put the one on their property, hoping that her sister would find it. After the trip, Lois is tried so Terra goes off to find Elise and learns from her that she broke up with Merc because she couldn’t be with a man who wouldn’t stand up for his mother and sister.

The next morning Terra and Lois leave for Hangzhou. When they arrive, Lois is the one that finally gets Jacob and Norah into the orphanage where he grew up, they found Norah too abrasive and rude. They find that Jacob’s caregiver is still there, and she runs to him, recognizing him immediately. The woman who dropped him off at the orphanage still comes by every year to see if there is news about him. In the nursery, Terra meets a young girl, a young girl that also has a port wine stain like she does.

Terra goes and washes off all of her makeup and walks up to the little girl. She points to her and too herself speaking the words “Hao kan” which means good looking. The little girl beams at her and Terra knows she will never hide who she is again.

The group travels back together, and when they arrive at the airport, Erik is standing there holding a bouquet of roses. Terra introduces Jacob and is ashamed. He storms off for good and Terra breaks up with Erik there, but of course he still drives them home, not really being a bad guy. When  they get home, the first thing Terra’s father says is “what’s for dinner?” When Lois remarks about him not even going grocery shopping, he storms into the kitchen trying to start a fight. Lois says to him, when he is rude to her about the tea she bought for him, “if you don’t like them i can find someone else who will” and she means it, moving her things into Claudius’ old bedroom.

The next day, Terra and her mother go to the grocery store where they see her father leaving, and he sees them. He is carrying one shopping bag and shuffles away quickly when they spot him. But it is the first effort he has made in 12 years and a good sign. They leave the store without buying anyhting, Lois stating she needs to walk around a little while, and Terra is dropped of at the gallery.

Terra seizes the moment, and makes her own collage, a collage of true beauty. Not magazine beauty but her own beauty. Through the process Karin walks in, and Terra confronts her about Karin always acting like Erik is the best thing that has ever happened to her, and it makes her feel like she is a horrible person. Karin apologizes and leaves to let Terra finish.

Finally, Terra stands up to her father when he tries to make a snide comment about her going to school without her makeup on, telling him that no one cares about the China map and there are maybe five people in the world that even remember it and then she leaves. Lydia calls her later in the week telling her another artist wants to take her as his apprentice, and Terra wants to be put back in the art show. Lastly, Terra travels to Jacob’s school making herself a geocache and giving him the coordinates to “find” her.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s