Monday, March 16, 2009

Thoughts on Beauty

Thanks everyone for your great name ideas. I haven't been able to decide on one yet, but I've narrowed it down to three. Two I came up with myself, but one was submitted by a commenter. I'm going to put them up to a vote, but regardless of the outcome, Charlotte wins a free L,B book of her choice!

The final three are:
1. Beyond the Book
2. An Editor's Story
3. Every Book a Star (Charlotte, you may have just been joking about this, but I like it, because it's true!)

Please vote for your favorite name! And as Charlotte wins a book regardless, don't let that affect how you vote.

Okay, so here's my post about North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, as promised.

On Friday night I went with a girlfriend to see the movie
He's Just Not That Into You--not the greatest movie ever made, of course, but with my realistic (low) expectations, it was a fun time, and afterwards there was plenty to discuss regarding dating and men and how we view ourselves.

We discovered that we were both incredibly awkward teens, and considered ourselves fairly unattractive. That's nothing new--I'd guess that at least 90% of the population considered themselves ugly and awkward as a preteen and teen. But we were both shocked that the other was not of the special 10%, and marveled at how far we've come. When I reflect on it more, though, I realized that there was a point while I was still in my awkward stage when I started to consider myself pretty--I just never thought that anyone else (aside from my parents) truly found me attractive. Even in college when I started to date somewhat successfully, I thought that only after someone of the opposite sex got to know me well would they be able to find me physically attractive--hence, my whole "friends first" approach to dating, which is how my first three relationships developed. My theory was confirmed when my second boyfriend, after we had dated for a few months said, quite honestly over dinner one night, "I just realized that you're really pretty!" Umm...thanks?

This all leads back to North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. This novel is narrated by Terra--tall, blonde, kick-a*s body, but no matter how much she works on herself, no matter how much make-up she wears, she never sees herself as beautiful because of the port-wine birthmark that covers half of her face. We've all been there, right? Especially as a teen. "If only my teeth were straight, I'd be beautiful. If only my skin cleared up, I'd be pretty. If only my nose were smaller. If only I lost 20 pounds. If only XX"

Over the course of the novel, Terra learns to adjust her definition of beauty, and Justina hopes that the same will happen with the readers. In one guest blog during her blog tour, Justina talks about the influence of Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman" on her novel, saying:

I’d rather be The Most Phenomenal Me I can be than The Most Beautiful Girl in the room. One will sustain me forever, the other will fade and leave me yearning for my glory days. I don’t want to live in memories of my past prime when I have the beauty of now.


Now to choose a question from the many great suggestions. These two were related, so I'll address them both:

I loved North of Beautiful--did the book come in pretty much perfect like this, or did you get to work with Justina to weave all those themes together so beautifully?


I always love to hear about process. It would be interesting to hear about a problem or course change from your perspective and from the perspective of the author/artist.

Justina's previous two novels,
Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) and Girl Overboard came to me in very good shape and almost complete. North of Beautiful, on the other hand, I first read as a proposal--I think about three chapters and rough synopsis. And to be perfectly honest, I was a little concerned. First of all, the main character was a Chinese adoptee with a port-wine birthmark. Her father was not just verbally abusive, but physically abusive as well. Oh, and her mother was a borderline alcoholic. Sounds like a lot, huh? Frankly, it felt almost depressingly oppressive. I had complete faith in Justina's ability as a writer, but I had to recommend that she make some significant changes and see if we were on the same page.

Justina really is a dream author for an editor to work with. She's not only a smart and skilled writer, but she's also very open and listens to and carefully considers feedback. I don't expect authors to agree with every comment I make, but it makes a world of difference when an author really listens to my questions and edits and addresses them in a seamless and believable way. In this case, she dealt with many of my comments by taking the original Terra, and transfering some of her issues over to the wonderful character of Jacob. She toned down Terra's parents as well. And it all worked.

I absolutely love what Justina has accomplished with this novel. It's beautifully written, compelling, moving, rich, and layered. And it introduces the reader to fascinating things such as geocaching, cartography, travel, adoption, and collaging. I also love the relationship between Terra and her mother. And as to the question about whether I played a role in weaving the themes into the novel, that was all Justina. She is a genius! Truly. And don't just take it from me, take it from the glowing reviews all around the blogosphere--and did I mention it's received three starred reviews?

"With every carefully chosen word, well-crafted sentence, and fully developed character, Headley maps out a wholly satisfying reading experience that takes readers from terra nullis to terra firma."--Booklist (starred review)

"This emotionally satisfying novel is replete with themes about the true meaning of beauty, the destructive power of verbal abuse and the restorative ability of art. Mapping and cartography terms are expertly woven throughout the text, adding yet another level to an already complex and deeply felt read. Look out, Sarah Dessen. You may have met your match in Headley."
--Kirkus (starred review)

"Laced with metaphors about maps and treasure, Headley’s (Girl Overboard) finely crafted novel traces a teen’s uncharted quest to find beauty....All of her characters hold secrets; finding them out will be as rewarding as Terra’s discoveries of caches."--Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

Justina always tries to give back in some way with each book, and for
North of Beautiful she is sponsoring a Video Challenge where she'll be donating $10 for every video uploaded (up to $1,000) to Global Medical Surgeries, which helps kids with cleft lips in third world countries.

I neglected to read the guidelines before creating my video, so it's a bit longer than it's supposed to be, but oh well. Here's my video! Make one of your own!

Read the full rules of the Find Beauty Video Challenge here.

Charlotte, Martha, and the Anonymous who submitted the second question, please email me at with your book choice (check the website for options) and mailing address. Thanks, and congrats!


Kimbra Kasch said...

Number 1) Beyond the Book

Rita said...

Wow, I really enjoyed watching that video--as well as reading this whole post, of course!

And for my vote: Beyond the Book. :)


Llehn said...

I like Charlotte's Every Book A Star!

Good luck with the naming!


Lynn said...

I like "Beyond the Book."

Laurie said...

I vote for "Beyond the Book"

Anonymous said...

"Every Book a Star", definitely!
Can't wait to read your new book posts :0)

Rebecca Stead said...

Every Book a Star.

(Love that thought a lot . . .)

Anonymous said...

Of these three, I really like Beyond the Book. Sounds like a wonderful feature!

jenn said...

I vote for Beyond the Book. Thanks for soliciting our opinions!

Kristi Valiant said...

My vote is for Beyond the Book. I kept going back and forth between 1 and 2, but Beyond the Book sounds more unique to me and still shows the concept that these posts will tell us more about the books you edit.

Anonymous said...

I vote for Beyond the Book!

Anonymous said...

Beyond the Book


Erika said...

I vote Every Book a Star. It's so catchy...and true!

Anonymous said...

I love Beyond the Book, Alvina. Great posts!
Cheryl (from Oregon)

T.S. said...

Have I not voted yet? I vote for Beyond the Book as well. Now where's this twitter poll?

Barbara said...

Beyond the book!!! Has connotations of insider information and those behind the scenes shots that are extras on DVDs. I am sure that you feel that every book you work on is a Star, but the title, Every Book's a STar, is just a bit too rainbowy, if you know what I mean.... Cheers! Barbara