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Monday, March 09, 2009

North of Beautiful - Justina Chen Headley

You have no idea how many times I tried to win a copy of this book - entering every North of Beautiful blog contest out there, but I could never beat Justina Chen Headley's super fast fans at finding the answers. Until last week. My heart practically skipped a beat when I got a note from the author herself (super rock star status for authors when you're a librarian, you know) saying I'd won a prize in her geocaching contest. I wasn't sure if it was a book or one of her cool geocaching tins, but did it really matter? I was getting a prize from Justina Chen Headley herself! You can imagine my excitement when I went to my mailbox on Friday and found a copy of the book, inscribed personally to me!!!! There was dancing in the office, I will tell you that. Other weekend plans were put on hold. The carpet didn't really need vacuuming, did it?

This book has gotten a lot of good reviews, and after spending my weekend with it, I know why. It's amazing in so many ways. There's the whole restorative power of art angle which I always love to see because it's so true. Whenever I'm struggling with something, it seems like all I want to do is go create something. I feel a lot better about everything when I can physically create some sort of art. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular, either. It could just be stringing some seed beads on an elastic string. but I feel better.

I also love the geocaching in this book. It's a fun seek and discover past-time that some of my friends are into, so it was fun to read about it just in that sense, but it's so symbolic here as well. Terra, her mother, Jacob, Norah - they're all seeking something much deeper than a geocache. this would be a great way to teach extended metaphor!

Terra's dad's verbal abuse of her mother and her is a major piece and very difficult to take for me. I've never been what anyone could describe as passive, so it's hard for me to imagine putting up with that kind of thing. But I've never been in a situation like that, either, so I try not to judge. My parents - and everyone around me - have always been ultra supportive of whatever I do, whoever I am, whatever I look like. I can imagine that if you're always told the opposite, you might be a different kind of person. I can't help judging the dad, though. He is a total jerk. But now I hear my friend Suzanne's voice niggling at me to try and be empathic toward him as well. He must really be hurting to lash out in such a way. But he needs to move on from his grief. He's hurting everyone around him and may very well lose them. It's unfair!

The power of friendship and the need for connection is a huge part of this book as well. I hear my friend Suzanne again - she was always reminding everyone around her of the importance of connection between people. She would so have loved this book. Jacob and Terra, neither of whom necessarily fit the typical definition of beauty - she due to a large port-wine stain birthmark on her cheek and he due to a cleft lip - have some insight into one another's lives which gives them a strong connection right form the moment Terra nearly runs Jacob over. Together they struggle to determine what makes something beautiful, both in art and in life - a question which will linger with readers as well.

I also loved the whole China part of this book. Jacob and his mother are returning to China to visit the orphanage where Jacob lived for three years before his mother, and Terra and her mother have been invited by Terra's brother to visit him in China, so they all end up traveling together. The sights and sounds of China made their travel seem very real to me, and since China is a place I want to visit someday, I really enjoyed that. The author spent some time living in China last year, but I'm not sure if she had actually traveled to China before that or not. It seems like she must have because she had so many details in her writing, but I'm sure she's a good researcher, too, so maybe not. Perhaps if we're lucky she'll read this entry and make a comment telling us the answer (hint, hint).

Finally, I loved how there was a cameo in the novel of some characters from Girl Overboard - that was so fun and, you know me, I loved the romance piece.

Another fabulous novel from a fabulous lady. Available in the WOMS library soon. And don't forget about her Find Beauty Challenge video contest - it's open until the end of March. I'd love to see some WOMS entries. I can even help you make it if you want to come in at lunch and use our video camera.


Here is a picture of my cat Hummer trying to sneak in and read North of Beautiful. I was reading in bed on Saturday night (I am a wild girl, I know), and I got up to get a drink or something. Next thing I know my cat has commandeered both my spot AND my book. He didn't get a chance to finish reading, but he assured me he liked what he saw.

1 comment:

Justina Chen Headley said...

Thank you, Mrs. F-B, for such an incredible analysis of my book. You don't know how much your words mean to me.