Novel: Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings
Publisher: Vandalia Press
Format: E-FormatJason 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)
Jason is trying to discover who is and what it means to live in Harper’s Ferry, a place where nothing is expected of him, the park rangers and laughed at, and his parents don’t know a thing about him. His father thinks Jason’s love of drawing is a waste, and his mother doesn’t know what to think.
The novel starts when Jason meets an author on the side of the road, which is perfect place to introduce our main character. Throughout the novel we read about Jason’s self-discovery and his continuous battle with the non-expectations of the people around him. I loved Jason's character, his self-doubt, the issues he encounters, and the battles he must fight with himself.
The form of this book is perfect with the storyline, each chapter is a different event in Jason's life, and we uncover more and more layers of his character and personality with each encounter. Cummings has written a novel of boy we can identify with, the one who knows what he wants, he just doesn’t know how to achieve it. He has written a beautiful novel depicting growing up in the simplest form possible.