I agreed to read and review this book simply because it was something so different than what I usually read. I love short stories and find it hard to find a book from a teen male point of view. So of course Ugly To Start With was intriguing. Award winning author John Michael Cummings paints a very real picture of what a small town boy like Jason might be going through when your dreams are just too big for anyone to understand. Ugly To start With is eloquently written and this allows the book to give life and heartbreak to a character like Jason who has to see at a young age how real life can get.
Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. Back when the roads were smaller, the cars slower, the people more colorful and Washington, DC is way across the mountings--a winding 65 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 back seat 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.
The only thing that I can say about Jason is that through his young trials you can see that he may wind up being an honest man. He observes so much about life in a small town, and in my opinion during the briefest point of everyone’s lives that he can only come out with wisdom. He wants to be an artist and receives some ridicule for that from is father. I was also able to see how much he loved his mother since she seems to be the one to encourage his art. Even though Jason’s family is poor he comes out rich in different ways. His interactions with the characters of Harpers Ferry are funny, edgy and truthful with no holding back…at all. I’ll admit at times when I was reading I was challenged at how real Jason’s experiences were. But I’m glad I did because that is what a great book does. It challenges you to read, egging you on beyond your curiosity to keep reading. Jason interested me so much as a character I had to keep reading.
I think my favorite story was Rusty Clackford. Only because I was able to see Jason as himself in the quietest environment allowed, lonely Rusty Crackford’s house in Pipertown. Jason is selling magazine subscriptions and Rusty is a person who he decides to visit. Rusty is described as a withering old man, who smokes and is hard of hearing and still barks out orders to his dead wife Jen. Jason entertains Rusty’s conversations about television, mountain people, and the tough characters of Pipertown. They eat spaghetti together while watching TV and then Jason’s decides to help Rusty paint a tin roof. This is when you see how much joy Jason gets from painting. Just painting a roof makes him happy because he’s doing what he loves.
Ugly To Start With is for a mature audience that is willing to digest the reality that Jason lives. He is the reader’s observer and serves as the interpreter for the characters of Harpers Ferry. This is a book that I feel that adults will enjoy and teens that are serious about life. Author Cummings writing allows Jason to admit his true dream and take it no matter the sacrifice or the opinion of others. I feel teens and parents will be able to see both sides of a dream. Specifically a dream that doesn’t always come out profitable but a dream that will guarantee a person’s happiness as long as they are doing what they love.