Tuesday, March 24, 2009

north of beautiful by justina chen headley

it's not hard to notice terra cooper.

she's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. but with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. terra secretly plans to leave her small, stifling town in the northwest and escape to an east coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. when an unexpected collision put terra directly in jacob's path, the handsome but quirky goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. with her carefully laid plans disrupted, will terra be able to find her true path?

this was an unexpected read. it was sent to me by a good friend (for the record: it was sent not based on his recommendation, but because i have read your other books.) so i threw it in the pile of books on my desk. i enjoyed your first novel nothing but the truth (and a few white lies) a lot. . . like a more normal version of millicent min (of millicent min, girl genius fame).  but then i found myself with nothing to read so i reached for your newest novel.

the design is gorgeous. the premise interesting. but i had a hard time with it. your writing has moments of purity. but then at times, it's too rough. too much confusion slips between the words. i wanted to like terra, and for the most part i did. but she never fully bloomed for me. i wanted her to have at least one bold moment, one empowering sense of self by the end. she came close, but never quite got there. 

as for her family . . . her father's character felt forced, like you were trying to hard to convey his personality. and i never understood his motivations. and terra's relationships with her brothers. . . . they felt coerced into being distant and abandoning the cooper women. and jacob, i thought he was great. the perfect boy for girls to dream about. but did you have to give him his own deformity? i mean, it works in the story, but i was disappointed that a normal, not "freak" boy, didn't fall in love terra for all she is, all she wants to be. a freak for the freak, i suppose. mrs. cooper stole the scenes, quietly. and in this timid way, like she didn't want to steal them and she knew she was supposed to be in the background. but somehow, her moments shone through everything else. 

your plot was sweet, but it felt too hard to believe. i'm sorry, but it did. it's not a terrible story at all, i swear. but it was a contrived and terra's journey was too easy. even her father didn't resist her too much. she managed to overcome every obstacle thanks to someone else, and usually their money. i also wanted her to really stand up for herself, and her beauty, to her lame boyfriend. like actually get angry with someone and let them know they had angered her. but she never did. terra has quiet, passive moments like her mom, but even her mom figures out how to stand on her own two feet in a way that terra didn't. yet, i never managed to convince myself to put the book down. it never occurred to me. so perhaps just this title didn't speak to me and some time in the future you'll wow me again.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

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