In this young adult novel by Justina Chen we meet Terra, a beautiful and physically near perfect teen with a port wine birthmark on her face. Therein this short description do we find the crux of this story. Terra’s coming of age, so to speak, is about what beauty is and who defines it. But more so than a commentary on physical appearance, Chen addresses inner beauty and beauty within the world. From the social confines of perfection as it is shown to us in the media, to the oft sought after special-uniqueness that makes one realize that it’s what’s inside that counts, Chen is searching to emphasize that beauty is diversity.
Is the book absolutely unique in this vein? No. The story itself has been told before. Look, here’s a Goodreads list in case you don’t believe me:
That said, Chen does two things that impress this reader:
1) She writes an amazing character in Terra’s emotionally abusive narcissistic father
2) She writes Jacob, who is already one step ahead in the beauty-is-from-within department
Chen also takes the story to China, where the two characters that desperately need a reprieve from daddy dearest find it in the form of discovery of beauty in the most unlikeliest of places, etc., etc.
The book is a good read with a decent ending that wraps things up, but not too neatly. All of the appropriate symbology is there. Terra’s father is a failed Cartographer, which makes Terra’s discovery of herself and the unique way that she and Jacob come to know each other (geocaching is the new thing of the moment here), metaphorically linked to his failure and success. Likewise, the journey to China is as much as a journey to reality as it is a physical act.
I did think that the journey to China could have used a little bit more story, but the protagonists are really well written and relatable, and a teen audience will definitely identify with the themes addressed here.
All in all it’s hard to write for teens. After all they already know everything. But in their angsty and hormone riddled world, Chen’s novel no doubt makes huge waves.
Until next time, happy reading!