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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: Ugly To Start With by John Michael Cummings

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Author: John Michael Cummings
My Rating: 4 cups
Source: copy provided by the author
Blurb (from Goodreads):



Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque, historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. Back when the roads are smaller, the cars slower, the people more colorful, and Washington, D.C. is way across the mountains—a winding sixty-five miles away.

Jason dreams of going to art school in the city, but he must first survive his teenage years. He witnesses a street artist from Italy charm his mother from the backseat of the family car. He stands up to an abusive husband—and then feels sorry for the jerk. He puts up with his father’s hard-skulled backwoods ways, his grandfather’s showy younger wife, and the fist-throwing schoolmates and eccentric mountain characters that make up Harpers Ferry—all topped off by a basement art project with a girl from the poor side of town.

Ugly to Start With punctuates the exuberant highs, bewildering midpoints, and painful lows of growing up, and affirms that adolescent dreams and desires are often fulfilled in surprising ways.


This was a very interesting book. Set in the 70s, the story shows you different chapters from Jason's life, a teenager living in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

The stories are all strong and some are sad and filled with so much irony it was a little painful. Jason is living in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and where you're judged by the size of your house or the street you live in or some other simple things, like is you nod or wave to your neighbors every day.

The book touches a lot of difficult, touchy subjects, like racism, homosexuality, cancer, alcoholism, poverty, physical abuse, but Cummings manages to combine these subjects so well and even though you might cringe at some point, you're still intrigued and you still turn the page, wanting to know more.

There were moments in the book where I couldn't relate to Jason at all, like in Ugly to Start With, when he rejects a cat because she was ugly, the same cat that had stayed by his bed when he was sick. I couldn't empathize with him, but I somehow understood his reasons for rejecting her. Then there where the moments where I completely understood him, like in We Never Liked Them Anyway, where he tries to lash out at the boy who's been bullying him for a very long time and Jason does that when the boy was hurt.

I loved the open ending. It kind of gave me a sense that Jason has the ball now, he can make the big decision of whether or not he should leave Harpers Ferry and become an artist or stay in his hometown and see his dreams ruined. Though part of me wanted a firm ending, the certainty that Jason will in fact leave his hometown and continue his education, I can see how that ending is an interesting subject to talk about and debate.

All in all, the books was a good read. If you're not bothered by the occasional cursing, then you should read it.



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