Tuesday 21 February 2012

Review: Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

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. (via Goodreads)

Ugly to Start With is a series of short stories all narrated by a teenage boy named Jason, and in each he tells us something new about what's going on in his life. The subject matters are all different, from sexual encounters to arguments with parents.

I got the impression that the setting was the most important aspect of it all, as Jason continually struggles with the small town minds of the Harpers Ferry residents. His big dream is to make it out of there and go to the city, which he's been led to believe is a whole other world away. There really is a sense of character growth throughout, and I found it most interesting that the first and last stories both involve a connected subtext which help demonstrate this growth.

However, one drawback of Ugly to Start With is the lack of plot driven occurrences. As mentioned before, a lot of it is about the setting and encounters, so in some of the stories I didn't feel there was enough going on to keep me engaged. But, with that said, it's an interesting book, and quite different from anything else I've read. If you like short stories with a bit of a twist, then Ugly to Start With could be for you.

Rating: 3 / 5