Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Release Date: October 1, 2011

Publisher: Vandalia Press

Source: Author

Format: eARC

Ugly to Start With

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.

(Synopsis from YA Infatuation)
Before I read this, I read up on the author. Something that I realized and that played into the book was that he actually writes short stories. This book was composed of short stories in the chapters. If you've read Eleven by Lauren Myracle, flash back to the format that was used.
I actually think that this works amazingly well for contemporary-type books like this, with stories of finding yourself and of the protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. :) Because everything in everybody's lives does not revolve around one central plot. Life is made up of a ton of tiny stories. John Michael Cummings does an excellent job with the formatting.
Jason wants to go to art school. He dreams of being an artist, and desires it more than anything. However, before he can start pursuing his dream of being an artist, he has to survive regular life first.
Not only is his life filled with the turmoil and chaos of being a teenager - love, loss, change, school, friends, etc,. - but he deals with things that are more out of the ordinary as well. He stands up to an abusive husband, watches the charming of his mother by an artist named Ernesto, and works with a girl from the other side of the tracks.
This is the story of Jason's life, and surviving his teenage years, portrayed in a laughable, tearjerking, lovely story of Jason trying to find his path in the world.
Jason was the best part of the book by far. If I had to name a part of the book that really stood out from the rest, it would have to be the well rounded and developed characters. He was the best type of protagonist and gave the story his own unique charm.
He thinks deeply, while also portraying a light-heartedness found in most teenagers. It was a nice balance that really showed the depth of his character and made this book very enjoyable to me.
Being a teenager myself, I really did feel like I knew Jason. He constantly struggled with self-doubt, got pushed around by his parents and the people around him, and he was passionate. For most people, they don't think that a young teenager can be very passionate about something, and that's something that I've struggled with. People don't usually look at us like equals until we're older.
I did like the quirky personalities of his family. His father was very backwoods, and it was funny to hear about. His mother was easily charmed and she was an interesting character. I really liked the rest of the supporting characters and they shaped the world that Jason was in.
The writing was fantastic. The author has written a lot before this and it really shows. There's an aura of...professionalism and cleanliness that really made it a pleasure to read. It was well-organized and clear, which is what I need sometimes. I'm all for writing without outlining and not really organizing, but John Michael Cummings did it so well!
I really liked the setting of the book. The 1970s was the perfect time period to shape this book in, and gave it a vintage air almost that really went along with Jason's character. It was simpler, and nice to read about. Also, this doesn't really have much to do with the book, but we're studying Harpers Ferry in Social Studies as a prelude to the Civil War so I was able to convince myself that I was "studying" by reading this. I wasn't really, but the mention of it kept me reading, ha.
This is a quicker read, not too light or heavy. With Jason's changing temperament and surroundings, we're plunged into an engaging story about a boy finding his way in the world. The experiences that we got to visit with Jason were just wonderful to read. I both laughed and cried in this book because of the honest simplicity and poignancy of it. This is definitely a read that will have shaped my reading tastes.
There's not really that much that I can say to describe this book other than that. There were a few key points that I really loved and that I've pointed out, but the overwhelming potency of these points makes the book. There were a few great points, but you really need to understand HOW great these points were to the book.
If you're looking for a great read, please pick this one up. It might be one of those books that not enough people hear about, but when you read it, you will truly enjoy it.
Book club questions and recommendations to come later.