North of Beautiful is Justina Chen Headley’s third book, and she just keeps getting more and more awesome. The protagonist of this novel, Terra Rose Cooper, is a girl who works hard to keep her body perfect, but that’s not what makes strangers stop and stare. Terra has a port wine stain covering the left side of her face. This blemish is all that many people notice, and it’s taken a toll on her life.

Another less-than-perfect aspect of Terra’s life is her overly controlling father. Terra can’t wait to escape to college three thousand miles away from him, but this is more complicated than it seems. Everything is always more complicated than it seems. Oh, and there’s also a romance aspect to this book–Terra meets Jacob and is falling for him, even though she’s already got a boyfriend who everyone thinks is perfect.

The backdrop of the book, so to speak, is Terra’s father’s profession. He is a cartographer, and location is a big part of this book. There’s maps (both actual place maps, and maps of a more artistic sort), geocaching (which I’d never heard of, but it sounds pretty awesome), travel, and Terra’s desire to get far away from her father. This is present throughout the book, and I really liked that aspect of it–it’s part of what made North of Beautiful stand out so much. It’s an original way of looking at a story that is really fairly common, in its most basic aspects. Terra’s port wine stain was part of what she had to overcome in this story, and that was also unique to this story.

There are many themes to this book. It’s a book about finding yourself, finding your way, finding your voice, finding real beauty, finding love…It’s about searching and finding and journeying, in a figurative and literal sense. And I loved it. I loved the wonderfully human characters. I loved the originality of this story that is, yes, in some ways predictable, but still amazingly unique. I loved Justina Chen Headley’s gorgeous prose, the way she makes Terra’s voice really come alive on the page. In case you couldn’t tell, I found North of Beautiful to be absolutely brilliant. It’ll be out in February 2009.

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