Welcome to the first stop on Justina Chen Headley's blog tour for NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL (Little Brown), a novel for teens that's currently featured as a pick of the week on the home page of Barnes and Noble. Justina will be traveling from the Fire Escape to four other virtual venues this week to give us the inside scoop about a novel that has already garnered starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, and Kirkus.

Those who follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook buddies know how often I laud NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL as one of my all-time favorite teen reads -- here's my response to the story right after I read it. You actually have FIVE chances to win a signed copy (details at the end of the post), but for now, let's spend a bit of time with Justina since we're fortunate enough to have her here.

Were you as popular and gorgeous in high school as you are today? What were you like, describe your school, tell us about your best buddies, and give us the inside scoop on boyfriends.

Mitali, popular and gorgeous are the last two adjectives I’d ever use to describe myself, then or now. Think quiet geekster, and you have a more accurate picture of me.

My years at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California (home of the iPod!) was all about journalism and speech & debate. Which, let’s face it, are geeky activities. I’m still close to friends (hi, Si Oyama and Julie Yen!) who date back to second-grade, monkey-bar, cherry-drop days on the playground.

TECHNICALLY (ahem), I wasn’t allowed to date in high school. But (shhhhh) I managed to squeeze in a few boyfriends here and there. And then I did go to something like 13 proms… Doesn’t that sound like a YA title: 13 Proms.

Maybe that's why we get along so well -- we're both geeks. Write 13 Proms after you finish the fantasy you started during the writing workshop in Bellevue last month. Okay, next question. Terra’s father and mother are such richly-drawn, but heartbreakingly flawed characters. How do your parents feel about your writing fiction? Have they read NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL?

I think my need to write mystifies my parents, but now they’re proud of my books. And proud that I’m a writer. Still, all through college, it was push-push-push for me to be an engineer. Or a doctor. Which really is ludicrous given my inability to calculate sums mentally, visualize in 3D, or handle blood. My dad read my first novel and his reaction was: “This is better than I thought it would be.” But lots of little birdies have told that they do that Asian bragging thing to their friends—“We knew Justina was always going to be an author! Of course we knew! Her middle name means lover of words!”

Our parents must meet. Since we're on the Fire Escape, let's talk about the hyphen that's a part of both of our lives. As the mother of teen boys who don’t often see an Asian-American as the “it” guy in pop culture, I’m grateful that you created such a hunk in Jacob. Do you consider yourself a Taiwanese-American writer? If so, how does that impact your fiction? If not, why not?

One of my missions as a writer was to create a hunk who happened to be Asian! That was a gift for my two brothers and my son…and all the Asian-American dudes out there who need to see guys like themselves as cool. Heartdroppingly cool. Devastatingly cool. It makes me feel great that readers of all ages are emailing me: “I. Am. So. In. Love. With. Jacob.” Mission accomplished!

I consider myself as a writer. Period. While I am proud of my heritage, I don’t think my ethnicity should define or limit or categorize me or any of the work I create. Certainly, I like to weave some of my background into my novels—tidbits of Taiwanese history in NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES) and the Cultural Revolution in GIRL OVERBOARD. But those elements informed the story and explained character motivation. They were central to why Patty’s mom and Syrah’s mom acted the way they did. History—whether personal or political or both—shapes who we are. Ethnicity by itself isn’t a character attribute; history is. Those telling details are what should be included in stories.

Love it. Your response might merit another post altogether. Moving on for now. You create a magnificent sense of place in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. In fact, you take us to two places — the Pacific Northwest and Shanghai. Which comes easier for you as a writer, plot, place, or people?

What a compliment—particularly when setting is hard for me; it’s actually the last thing I write when I’m in first draft mode. My novels unfold to me in layers: first come the characters. I can see them, hear them. I know what they want and how they’re suffering. What happens to them—the plot and conflict—comes next. Very last is setting, like a grace note. Or a procrastinated chore. I marvel at writers who create such a tangible sense of place that I feel as if I am on location as I read. That’s a true gift.

Thank you so much for joining us here, Justina. I am so proud of you and know that teens and adults alike will absolutely love NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. Here are the next stops on your tour; I'm going to be accompanying you from site to site as a silent lurker/cheerleader:

Monday, February 2: Kickoff at Mitali's Fire Escape

Tuesday, February 3: Shelf Elf with Kerry Millar

Wednesday, February 4: Archimedes Forgets with Sarah Rettger

Thursday, February 5: Bibliophile with Jennifer Rothschild

Friday, February 6: Teen Book Review with Jocelyn Pearce

Each day, the blogger hosting Justina will ask a question, and a commenter who answers that particular question correctly will become eligible to win a signed copy of book. Here's today's question:


Answer the question correctly before midnight EST in the comments below to qualify. My question's fairly easy, so I'm going to pick a random winner, but if you don't win here remember that you have four other chances.


Lisa said…
Hey, I'll play! Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies); Girl Overboard; and North of Beautiful. Nice interview!
Cloudscome said…
"Ethnicity by itself isn’t a character attribute; history is."I like that. Very succinct and true for all of us. As for the three YA novels I'm guessing: NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES) and GIRL OVERBOARD along with NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. I've only read the first one so far but I really must get the next two. I just finished reading the classic Red Scarf Girl and realized that I was in Shanghai in 11985, the year before Ji li Jiang moved to the US.
Cloudscome said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cloudscome said…
oops! I am hitting the post button too quickly. I meant to say 1985, which means that we were in Shanghai at the same time, along with 2 million others of course. Still it gave me pause. I was listening to students tell about their Cultural Rev. experiences and Jiang Ji Li was living it, getting ready to write it.
Cloudscome said…
12 million others in Shanghai, at least.
TadMack said…
"I consider myself as a writer. Period. While I am proud of my heritage, I don’t think my ethnicity should define or limit or categorize me or any of the work I create."

What a marvelous interview! I've heard so many good things about this book, and am very anxious to read it. Since I'm overseas, I won't answer your question to win the book, but I want to chime in and say that I love this interview, and Justina's words ring so, SO very true to me.
Anna said…
Thanks for discovering Justina's work for me! I have not read anything yet, but hope to sort this out soon :). I'm overseas so don't consider me for the contest but I'll keep an eye on Justina's book tour as well.
Erika Lynn said…
Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies, Girl Overboard, and North of Beautiful. I have also not read any of these but I have been reading great reviews for North of Beautiful and REALLY want to read it.
Madison said…
Wonderful interview.

Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)
Girl Overboard
North of Beautiful

I have had Girl Overboard for ages and have yet to read it. Too much else to read...And I desperately want to North of Beautiful; my friends who have read it love it. :-)
Maya Ganesan said…
-Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)
-Girl Overboard
-North of Beautiful
Justina said…
You all are so ON it! Wowsa! Thanks so much to Mitali for spearheading the entire tour.
Maya Ganesan said…
When will the winner be announced?
Alastrion said…
Justina Chen Headley's three YA novels are:
North of Beautiful
Nothing But the Truth (And A Few White Lies)
Girl Overboard
Thanks for the contest!
susan said…
Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies),Girl Overboard,North of Beautiful

Well, easy but a good way to get readers to check out Justina's blog. I confess the author is new to me. And I'll be adding her work to our wish list.

Thanks for the contest.

Mitali Perkins said…
And the winnner is ... randomly chosen ...

Maya Ganesan!

Send me snail mail at mitaliperk@yahoo.com with info about desired inscription and we'll get you your signed copy.

The rest of you, hurry over to the next posts to win your copies!
Maya Ganesan said…
Yay, thanks!
Justina said…
YAY, Maya! This is your lucky month, too!
Lenore said…
Enjoyed this interview! 13 proms would make a great title/premise for a book.