Book Review: Ugly to Start With by: John Michael Cummings

Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Vandalia Press

Publish Date: October 1, 2011

Origins: From Author for Review

Format: E-book

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: 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 Harper's 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. 

Review: Jason Stevens is the narrator of Ugly to Start With – a book of short glimpses into the strange and mundane lives of the inhabitants of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Jason is an artistic and sensitive soul whose intelligence shines through his observations of his family and those around him. There wasn’t a beginning, middle, and end – you get more of a feeling of the life flashing before his eyes. Starkly realistic, the good, bad, and the ugly come to life as you are reading the vignettes.

I felt Ugly to Start With was a powerful look at the reality of life in a small town. The people who live there, including the similarities which draw them together and the differences which are enough to keep them apart. The flaws of regular people and their goodness, too, shine through Jason’s recollections. Ugly to Start With makes you re-evaluate how you view life and what makes a person who they are.

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