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Welcome to a new feature on my blog!  I love to review books, but let’s face it. My reviews are from a 25-year-old’s perspective, sometimes teacher perspective, sometimes librarian perspective.

So I thought, how about some perspective from real teens?
My hope is that someday I’ll get to post my student’s words on here, but for now, I”m going to turn it over to a pretty cool girl I know who is in my YA Girls Book Club.

You can find out a little bit about her on the About – Teen Reviewers page, but for now, I’ll just tell you she’s a HUGE Harry Potter fan.

A girl after my own heart.

Author: Justina Chen | Website
Release Date: February 1st, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Age Group | Genre: YA | realism, romance, contemporary
Series: No
Pages: 373
Rating: 4.5

North of Beautiful is a thought provoking and interesting read. It was more focused on characters as opposed to plot development.  This realistic fiction was all about Terra Rose.   I think she wasn’t a terribly courageous character at the beginning of the story, but she found her strength as the story ends. Terra Rose, like many teenage girls has some image problems.  I think this comes not as much from her birth defect, a port wine stain across her cheek, as her father’s constant needling.

I liked how this book really honed in on the family life, whereas in most teen romance novels the parents and family are all but useless drivel.  Her father is a hard-core narcissist and her mother has defaulted to his codependent.  She takes his constant barrage of sly insults with little more than a mumble.  He is forever manipulating the situation in the room, making everyone in the family feel repressed and scared.  This father is the most subtle of the abusers, polite in company but cruel in privacy. One of my favorite Love-hate scenes in the book is the first time we meet her parents.

‘I doubt your doctor would be fine with you eating even one one-hundredth of all that [butter]. All you have to do, Louis, is make smart substitutions.’ Like a rattlesnake, there were warning sign that Dad was ready to strike.  And when he did, his words were swift, precise, deadly. Like now. ‘You wouldn’t be so fast if you would just use your brains. Cooking right is a matter of being intelligent and resourceful.’

This leads us to Terra’s boyfriend.  He cares about her but, they have an unhealthy relationship.   She calls him her “miracle boyfriend”. On the surface this phrase seems sweet, but in reality her meaning is a bit darker.  She believes that she could never get someone she feels totally comfortable with, her values her for more than her body, who is willing to accept her wit her without her port wine stain. Someone who has a firm grasp on the belief that beautiful is wild. Beautiful is not pruned and primped. It is natural and more importantly inner.

She finds this someone.  His name is Jacob. But she doesn’t dump her boyfriend.  This guy shows signs of interest; she still doesn’t dump her boyfriend.  This whole book has me in a state of panic, the constant mantra of “Why isn’t she dumping her boyfriend?” in the back of my mind.

This new guy’s mother befriends her mother and helps her mother’s confidence.  Jacob and her mother bring them to China. She still doesn’t break up with her boyfriend, because her shallow and competitive idiot of a friend tells her it would be a mistake to break up with him because “distance makes the heart fonder”. This boy was a safety blanket. I felt that was completely unfair to him and Jacob. I have a hunch that the author was intentionally driving me mad.

This was a remarkable story, a moving message, and an amazing book. I give North of Beautiful a 4.5/5. My biggest problem was the overused map references. I also thought her art sounded kind of ugly.  Some people might complain about her constant obsession over her face, but that was a huge part of her life, something that was constantly in her mind. I highly recommend this book.

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