“How far would you go to find True Beauty?”
North of Beautiful is a book which makes me feel like the person I want to be. Each and every time I open it, the pages fill me with a kind of hope and nostalgia that I just don’t have words for. It isn’t everyday that a book fills you with such zeal, so much ardor and enthusiasm. It isn’t everyday that I find a book that can center me so easily. It isn’t so much a book about finding love as it is about finding yourself. One of the most delightful things about it is that I don’t find myself yearning to find the perfect person when I flip through the pages. What I find instead is an immense desire to be who I am in the purest, most wholesome sense. If love follows me down that path, then so be it. I can’t spend my life seeking wholeness, but following a map with the wrong coordinates. I want exactly what Terra wants; to find that thing, or person, who makes my heart beat faster. That is true beauty. There is a big difference between the beauty that you see, and the beauty that you know deep inside, the kind of beauty that makes your heart go POW, and North of Beautiful is a users guide to understanding that kind of beauty.
Terra Rose Cooper has been hiding her whole life, literally, and figuratively. She wants to blend in, be anonymous, normal. She wants to wish away her birthmark, the red map of Bhutan forever imprinted on her cheek. Whether it’s a mistake in Terra’s genetic code or a physical way of warning everyone that Terra is different, it’s a mark that is there to stay. Terra is an artist. She seeks True Beauty at its purest strain. But Terra’s art is not art- according to her didactic, manipulative father, and so Terra is pursuing business, entrepreneurship. Her father drove her brothers away years ago, and Terra and her mother are stuck. Terra’s mother, who used to be kryptonite, a beauty queen, gained weight years ago, and she is too weak to fight the dichotomy of herself- before Marriage, and After.
As he continued to stare, I wanted to point to my cheek and remind him, But you were the one who wanted this, remember? You’re the one who asked-and I repeat-Why not fix your face?
When Terra is given a pamphlet which claims to be able to rid her of her port wine stain, she tells herself that it is a futile, pointless endeavor which has failed, past and present. But knowing that it will make her mother happy is the push she needs to try it, one last time. But at Terra’s first appointment, she skids across the ice and and almost hits a goth. The goth turns out to be Terra’s true north, Jacob, whose mother is a well traveled, independent woman. So when Terra and her mother are invited to visit Terra’s brother Merc, who is living in China, and Jacob’s mother Norah offers to take them, it’s an invitation they can’t refuse.
This is a book about life, and love, and truth. Not truth itself, but finding the truth in things that we take for granted; ourselves. Beauty. Our fate. These are things that often seem obvious, but can be distorted by the lens of society, or even the lens of ourselves. This book brings tears to my eyes every time I read it, and I have read through many times. Interwoven throughout are references to geocaching and cartography, which put an interesting twist on the coming-of-age theme.
I often find myself wondering how it is that authors depict such raw emotion. I am a girl who loves to write more than anything else, and I cannot think of a better example of flawlessly provocative writing as North of Beautiful. Justina Chen is an author whose work I admire across the board. Other books by Chen include Girl Overboard, Return to Me, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), and What Now.
“There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After…I knew there would be no turning back if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian from which everything else would be measured.”
-Terra Rose Cooper, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen