(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (2009) deals with perceptions of beauty and verbal/emotional abuse. The main character, Terra, was born with a port-wine stain on her face that she believes prevents her from being beautiful, so she compensates for this by obsessively making every other part of her body as close to perfect as possible. In addition to this disfigurement, her father is verbally abusive to her family, especially to her mother, a former beauty queen who has found comfort in food instead of standing up for herself, resulting in a physique that draws more ridicule and abuse from her husband. The book is about how Terra learns to accept herself and be confident in who she is with the help of a Goth boy with a cleft lip she meets in an accident.
I liked the book, despite being frustrated at Terra for basically being a teenage girl. (Not really her fault, there’s just a limit to how much I can take in stories/books.) I liked how the book showed Terra’s journey of growth from hiding behind her hair and make-up and trying to be like everyone else to being able to be herself and be happy with that. I think that is an important lesson for all girls to learn (and boys, too, but let’s face it—girls deal with this more than boys).
I also appreciated how the book handled the subject of verbal abuse. Because it doesn’t leave physical scars, verbal abuse is something that is hard to recognize and often ignored. The author does a wonderful job of showing not only the devastating effects that verbal abuse can have, but also how even years of verbal abuse can eventually be overcome. I especially liked how she included Terra’s older brothers in the book and showed how the abuse affected each of the siblings differently.
The book also touches on issues like divorce, adoption, and death, and contains language and sexual references that may not be appropriate for younger children.
(Also, as a note about the diversity aspects, the Goth boy happens to be Chinese, but it’s nice that he doesn’t feel like a “token Asian.” Instead, he is a well-developed character and his race is an important factor in the plot and development of the characters. It doesn’t hurt that the author is Taiwanese American, but it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to capitalize on her race, either.)
This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter N.