Terra's life is a map with boundaries she wants desperately to break free of. She's stuck in her tiny tourist trap of a town in the Pacific Northwest. Her dad, a once-famous cartographer, takes his anger at his own failures out on his family, who all live in fear of his next poisonous insult. Terra's mom is especially cowed by him, burying her unhappiness in food and refusing to accept that Terra will be leaving for college soon.
Anything less than perfect is a target for her dad's abuse, and Terra knows she's far from perfect. Born with a port-wine birthmark that covers her right cheek, Terra has spent her entire life covering up and distracting people from her face. The only thing that distracts her from her own doubts (and her father's sneering insults) is retreating to her art studio to work on her collages and the hope that she'll get into Williams College, far away on the East Coast.
But then Terra meets Jacob. On the way home from the latest in a long line of laser treatments for her birthmark, Terra almost runs him over in the parking lot of a coffee shop. Jacob doesn't seem to care what other people think about him- not about his Goth clothes and make-up, not about the scar on his upper lip, and not about the fact that his mom's white and he's an adopted Chinese boy. He seems confident and fearless, and when she's with him, Terra begins to feel like maybe she could be too.
When Terra and her mom are given the opportunity to travel to China with Jacob and his mom, Terra knows they have to go. Not only is it the one continent her dad won't go (there's no way he'd ever go to China, the source of the map that crashed his career), she knows that there's something waiting for her and her mom outside the boundaries of their suffocating world. But will they both be brave enough to take the first steps?
This story about power and individuality packs one heck of a wallop. Though the plot is great, this one's really all about the characters. Terra's a character whose inner strength is obvious to everyone but herself and her refusal to stay within the boundaries her friends and family try to draw around her had me cheering for her. Jacob and his mom are awesome, and Terra's mom... well, you'll just have to read it, since I don't have enough room here to cover her! And then there's Terra's dad, a character you'll love to hate (seriously, Voldemort's got nothing on this dude). Make sure you add North of Beautiful to your summer list of books to check out @ the library!
(Now reading Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr- I'm kind of sad that I'll have to wait for more! Though there is a Wicked Lovely manga about one of Keenan's Summer Girls...)
P.S. Yep, that's the same girl that's featured on the cover of Evermore by Alyson Noel - just flipped, sans purple and tulips, and with a compass!