Saturday, July 21, 2012

[Review] Ugly To Start WIth by John Michael Cummings

Title: Ugly To Start With
Author: John Michael Cummings
Published: October 1st 2011 by West Virginia University Press
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Realistic.
Rating: ★★★
Goodreads summary:
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.
*Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review*

Emma's thoughts:

Ugly To Start With is not a novel, but a compilation of short stories John Cummings had previously written. However, they all follow the life of Jason Steven growing up in the 70's. I'm not one for reading historical fiction, but it was beyond fascinating to see how the way people lived back then. 

That being said, Jason leads no typical life even back then. From the very first chapter, it's evident that his family has problems every family does, and even more. Jason, out of his two brothers, is the one his father seems to pick on most, and is his mother's favourite. His father is slightly abusive and too aggressive and you can see how that's affected Jason as a person. 

Each chapter deals with a completely different situation in Jason's life. I had trouble keeping up with the pace. It tended to jump from place to place with no obvious start or end. However, each chapter individually was written in a beautiful prose, clear and detailed.

I think the most memorable chapter for me was Ugly To Start With, which is the third chapter. John Cummings talks of a beautiful stray cat with thick white fur. It was welcome to the Steven's household, often keeping Jason company. That was until the day the cat got into fights with the neighbouring cats and ultimately got her perfectly white fur marred with blood. Tainted by the violence, the Steven's no longer wanted her near.
Night after night, I heard her crying. A long, painful cry that wouldn't stop. I covered my ears with pillows, but still I could hear it. The Groves' fat cats were picking on her. I opened my window and shot my BB gun into the dark, trying to hit her or whatever was scaring her, to make the whole thing go away.
It's a sad realization that nobody wants to face the unfortunate side of life but everyone has to. There are those 'unspeakable' things that people never want to think of again but demand to be confronted. It's those hardships that people find hardest to overcome. Ugly To Start With is a book full of brilliant moments that are seemingly insignificant but ultimately define the steps in one's life. Unforgettable.

Overall rating: 3 stars~ A beautiful combination of heart-touching short stories.
First:
On our way back from town, Mom and I spotted Ernesto, the new artist in Harpers Ferry, walking along the highway.
Most Memorable:
That's how my family was. Whatever it was, if it was ugly to start with or turned ugly, we were ashamed of it and wanted it to go away.
Teaser:
No one came into our house. All of Harpers Ferry knew that. Dad's rule. Maybe Grandma Jennings came in, if we let her, but nobody else. Maybe Uncle Dave, too. Dad had to let him in, not because he was his brother, but he because he had let him in from the start. That was the only way anyone got into our house, by having done it before.

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