22 March 2012

ugly to start with by John Miichael Cummings

Character Development          5
Editing                                      5
Sex                                            2
Violence                                  1
Romance                                 0
Readability/Flow                     5

 From the back cover:
Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque, historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in the 1970s. Back when the roads were 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.
Throughout this book, the one recurring thought I had was that I wanted to reach in and pull Jason out. I felt so sorry for this sweet boy growing up poor in such a hugely dysfunctional family. It often seemed like there was no one on his side - although he was his mother's favourite. Jason is like no one else he knows. He is artistic - soft. It takes almost the entire book before we realize that he is actually most like the one person in his life that he has the hardest time connecting with.

ugly to start with is dark but compelling. Mr Cummings does a great job of drawing the reader into Jason's life and experiences. The first chapter change confused me, mostly because I was expecting continuity. Instead, the chapter breaks move the reader through time and circumstances. It was a startling shock the first time but once I knew to expect it, things got better. Many of the events of Jason's life are very disturbing and off putting but it's like a train wreck - I just couldn't quit reading.

A Taste from page 29 (just for clarity 'Skinny Minnie' is a cat):
When summer came and I was home, I started shooting at Skinny Minnie with my BB gun whenever I saw her trying to come near the house. I could see the small, gold BB hit the side of her body. She jumped as if she had stepped on electricity and ran back into the overgrown lot. My body shuddered. If only she would die, then I wouldn't feel the embarrassment anymore. 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.


  1. Well, this one sounded like something I might want to read but the cat thing is just too much. I love kitties and it breaks my heart when people are mean to them. I just can't like a character that takes out there anger on animals even knowing where that anger comes from. :(

  2. Dunno about the confusion in the beginning. Sometimes that is just too much for me and I give up

  3. This sounds different and gritty - I like it. Great review and tidbit!

  4. This sounds like an intriguing book. Thank you for such a good review. I enjoy reading your blog and will follow you once the join this site button pops up.


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