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Beautiful Country

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  473 ratings  ·  71 reviews
A coming-of-age story set in modern day China centering on the friendship between an American and a Chinese boy who meet while training with Beijing’s Junior National Tennis Team.

Chase Robertson arrives in Beijing as a fourteen-year-old boy still troubled by the recent death of his older brother. He discovers a country in transition; a society in which the dual systems of
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 19th 2016 by Harper Perennial
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  473 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Jun 19, 2016 rated it liked it
I like a good coming-of-age novel, which is why the premise of this book intrigued me. As a young teenager, Chase's father sends him to Beijing to join the national junior tennis team. In his temporary home, Chase tries to adapt to a new culture, all while missing his friends and his routine back home.

This book is written very simply, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Due to the writing style and a younger protagonist, this felt more like a YA read, even though I think it's being marketed a
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-a-lit, 2016-read
When I first heard about this novel I wanted to read it as soon as possible. Tennis and Asian culture sounds great!

This stories follow Chase as he is send to China to play tennis after his brother's died. He has to deal with a new developing culture and come to understand many aspect of life.

The writing reads as an autobiography style. Thornton does not tell the story fully in order. Sometimes he adds information about the future of a certain event to give a sense of this happens, but it is
Very authentic and believable.
Jul 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
I have no idea why I finished this book. I guess I was hoping it would get better. It didn't. The main character was absolutely clueless. There was a dead older brother who I guess was supposed to be guiding his little brother, but it was neither believable nor did you feel much sympathy for the situation. The father was by far the worst character who was dictating his son's life solely according to what he wanted him to do. I really wanted to like this book because the premise is great, I love ...more
Laura McNeal
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you or your kids play tournament tennis or any other sport where the stakes seem frighteningly high, read this book right now. I can almost guarantee that you'll find it both heartbreaking and humbling to see how low the stakes are in comparison. Much of BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY reads more like an essay than a novel, probably because J.R. Thornton knows more about junior tennis than he knows about writing fiction, but whenever I think about the slightly dull prose or the vagueness of the American ch ...more
Sam Allard
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Occasionally unreadable, but mostly just bland; more or less the diary of a fourteen-year-old in China; ought to have been classified as YA. Themes and revelations might resonate with the teeny-bopper set? Material on China's 21st-century cultural evolution conveyed general insights, and a few nicely rendered scenes -- but again, straight out of a tourist's personal diary; tennis stuff and family stuff never probed deeper than surface level; one-line moralizing became tiresome for lack of depth ...more
Judy Fogarty
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I was eager to read BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, the coming-of-age story of a talented 14-year-old tennis player, who is American but training for a year in Beijing. The author, J. R. Thornton, played tennis at Harvard and on the pro circuit, so I knew he would write about the sport with the extensive knowledge I had to acquire through research when I wrote my novel BREAKING AND HOLDING. I knew too that the setting would enrich the novel. Though BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY met these expectations, it disappointed me ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
The writing was really good and engaging, and I was truly very interested in the story for the most part, but it never went where I wanted it to go, it was all very flat at the end instead of building to something interesting and impactful
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"You always want to win. That is why you play tennis, because you love the sport and try to be the best you can at it."

----Roger Federer

J.R. Thornton, An internationally ranked junior tennis player, pens his debut novel, Beautiful Country that narrates the story of a young boy in a new country-Beijing, all by himself, to get trained under best and strict tennis coach so that he could be ready for the international championships. But when friendship comes before Tennis, he needs to make a terr
Ally Brooke
Aug 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I was excited to read this book because I have always found Chinese culture intriguing. It was interesting to learn about it from an American's perspective.

Beautiful country got my attention in the first few chapters, but somewhere in the middle, it began to bore me. The first half of the book was just random anecdotes about China, loosely tied together with Chase's narration and thoughts. A lot of these stories were interesting, but some of them seemed irrelevant. It wasn't until the last half
Sherrie Howey
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Chase is a 14 year old boy who is sent to China by his father to train with a Chinese tennis team following a tragedy within his family. While Chase would prefer to train in the US, his authoritarian father believes he should go to China and arranges for him to stay with an influential family in China.
Chase trains with a tennis instructor whose techniques are counter to everything he has learned in the US and is faced with antiquated equipment and courts. He struggles to communicate with other b
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a nice simple little read about a 14 year old boy who is sent to China for a year by his father ( who has business ties in China) to study the culture, language and play tennis. Its a coming of age about a boy who discovers how very different life in China varies from his life in the U.S. Our protagonist , Chase, becomes friends with a young tennis protege and discovers very quickly how different it is growing up in this culture. This is an extremely simplistic read but I believe was don ...more
Nancy Shepherd
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: teens and adults interested in the Olympics, sports in general, and tennis.
Recommended to Nancy by: Goodreads
I received my copy of this book free through Goodreads, and I am so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this young man's impression of life as a visitor in China. The author obviously did a tremendous amount of research in preparation for writing this narrative. The contrast between the level of coaching in China and back home in the U.S. was mind-boggling. Also, the contrast between the players themselves was surprising. I hadn't given much thought to how much the Chinese youth sacrificed ...more
Bonnie Walker
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young man goes to China to play tennis

I listened to an interview with the author on NPR. The novel was about China and tennis. Two of my favorite topics. This novel is autobiographical and although the writing is good, not great, the story provides a look into China and its people that is well worth reading. I was in Beijing myself during the period that the story takes place. I was there only three weeks, and strictly a tourist but I recognized the authenticity of the writing. We in the weste
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have never visited mainland China and I do not know a lot about tennis, but I found this book to be fascinating and rewarding. It was refreshing to watch the story unfold through the eyes of this young author, who is clearly an emerging talent to watch. The main character Chase finds himself navigating the complexities of a cultural divide that touches nearly every aspect of our society today as China asserts its economic and cultural clout. But it all also illuminates how we can enrich our ow ...more
This book should be classified as a Young Adult book, the writing is very simplistic and really not very good but the story is interesting. I thought it was a memoir but it's marked as fiction but it appears to be closely based on the author's own experience playing tennis in China. I love tennis, I love watching my kids play tennis, I love watching professional tennis so that was intriguing to me but the story line between the narrator and Bowen fell flat towards the end. Even if you don't like ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
The story of a 14 year old tennis pro living in China, alway from his father - his only family after having lost his beloved older brother - is interesting in so far that it gave me a view of modern Chinese culture and social values. The problem for me is that it reads as if it was written by a 14 year old; a talented one, but still lacking in depth and poetry. Entertaining, except for the long descriptions of tennis matches.
Emily Vislocky
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Lovely, touching story. Appreciated learning about China through the sweet young narrator's eyes.
Apr 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Superb novel, especially for young boys. Reminds me very much of "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. Am giving it to a few friends with teenage boys in the family.
May 22, 2016 rated it liked it
A nice way to get some understanding of Chinese culture from the very personal perspective of an American teenager living in China for a year.
Margaret Bryant
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a really weird book. Read to the end, compulsively but not with much enjoyment
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017-2-stars
Despite a degree from Harvard University in history, English, and Chinese, perhaps Mr. Thornton could have invested in a thesaurus.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a fictional story, but as a few other reviewers have mentioned it reads much more like a memoir. I haven't been able to find too much detail on the author, but since he was an internationally ranked junior tennis player and lived in Beijing for awhile as a teenager, I'm guessing this fictional account is at least loosely based on some of his experiences there, even with his disclaimer of "All characters, including the narrator, are entirely imagined and bear no relation to any living per ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it liked it
This book read so much like an autobiography that I had to double check to see that it was, indeed, a novel. It is a good coming of age story about a 14 year old boy, sent to China by his father to spend a year learning Chinese, learning about Chinese culture and playing tennis. I agree with a previous reviewer that it would be a good YA novel. I spent some time in Beijing during the weeks leading up to the 2008 Olympics and recognized the descriptions of a city that was transformed for the even ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is the story of a young boy who is sent to China by his father to, essentially, study tennis. Maybe it was b cause the narrator is a 14 year old boy, but I didn’t enjoy the writing like style. It was bland and made it even more uninteresting - also, I’m not very knowledgeable about tennis, so perhaps it was the wrong choice for me. The boy befriends a young Chinese boy who is a tennis prodigy, and whose only way out of a life of hard labor is to become a tennis pro. For a number of reasons ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this interesting in light of a family move to Eastern Europe in the near future. My Grandson about this age changing schools as well as culture should be interesting for all. Of course, my Grandson won't be abandoned by his parents upon you imagine! I found this child's ability to forge a life from nothing. The Chinese culture is about as far from New England Prep Schools one can get and the main characters ability to see this country and function within these strange-to him ...more
Lisa Nocita
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Reads more like a memoir. Strong start but a fairly slow middle that feels more like a travelogue than a story. Based on a true story, I think, or at least shaped by the author's real life experiences.
Linda Barlow
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
"This unsettling book about the moral encounter between America and China is a study of privilege, innocence, and risk. It is a tragedy of manners and a portrait of Beijing-amplified and torqued and unmistakable." Evan Osnos, winner of the National Book Award
Adrienne Benoit Simmons
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well I love tennis and I love learning about other cultures so this was a great book for me to read! A 14 year old boy Is sent to China to train with the national team and to learn the language. He has many different experiences and builds his resilience during what must’ve been a lonely time! ❤️
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I wanted the characters in the story to develop more. The story is ok, it held my interest. China is intriguing and nuanced in this book. I love tennis, but if I didn’t I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have finished this book. It’s the author’s debut and he is good. I think his books will improve.
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J.R. Thornton graduated from Harvard in 2014 where he studied History, English and Chinese. An internationally ranked junior tennis player, he later competed for the Harvard men’s team and on the professional circuit. He lived in Beijing as a teenager, returning recently to undertake a fellowship at the International Writer’s Center at Beijing Normal University. Beautiful Country is his deb ...more

Articles featuring this book

An American tennis player moves to Beijing and trains alongside China's junior national tennis team in Beautiful Country, a coming-of-age tale of...
12 likes · 6 comments
“I’ve come to understand that each person has to work out their own personal algorithm of courage. No two are the same, and it’s no used trying to borrow or copy anyone else’s.” 7 likes
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