Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review # 192: Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Description: (from book jacket)
     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 is a series of short stories documenting several events during Jason Stevens' 1970's journey through adolescence. Each story is narrated by Jason, but the time-order and subject matter varies throughout each section, ranging from family drama and first loves to the growing pains we eventually face. There were times that I really enjoyed this novel's set-up, but the seemingly random collection of stories sometimes left me confused, some of the stories bordering on boredom. I much prefer novels where there are clear plot-lines and an ordered sequence of events. As for the setting and characters, I have visited Harper's Ferry and I love how John Michael Cummings depicted the area, the characters were nicely developed as well, although I wish I would have been able to get to know them a little bit better; maybe even figure out why everyone acted so callous to one another. My favorite sections were "The Scratchboard Project" and "We Never Liked Them Anyway". I was not a fan of the "Ugly to Start With" section, what happened with Skinny Minnie was just evil, (no spoilers). Recommended for readers who would enjoy a more unique take on the short story, and those in the mood for a coming-of-age tale about growing up.

Rating: Bounty's Out (3.5/5)

*** I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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