Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings
Review by Lauren
Copy from the Author, All Opinions are My Own
Official 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.
Review: I wasn't quite aware until I started reading that these are all interconnected short stories instead of one, complete novel. This can work just fine, but for Ugly to Start With, I almost wanted things to connect just a bit more. I'd go from one story to the next and be a bit confused at times...
However, there were some stories that were interesting all on their own. The very first one, "The World Around Us" is where a "street artist from Italy charms his mother from the backseat of the family car" and he really does. He shows the mom that the world is connected more than she knows and that beauty is found at home too, no just romantic countries far away. It was a great start to the book and one of my favorite "stories."
Near the end, there is a story called "The Scratchboard Project" where Jason procrastinates and must go to the poor side of town to find a subject to draw. There, he falls for a girl named Shanice who shows him that they aren't so different after all. Just like the first story, this one gives Jason a glimpse into just how close the world can be...even if it feels so far away.
The namesake of this book is a story about a stray cat that Jason's family tries to help out for awhile. When Jason startes to become too preoccupied by its ugliness, he shuts the cat out, even ignoring the cat's desperate calls to come inside when neighborhood cats begin to beat it up. It's a horrible story...not in the writing, as it obviously affected me strongly, but by how cruel people can be. It's not just animals either. It's easy to turn away from the ugly in the world, when we're all a bit ugly on the inside anyway, regardless of our outward appearance. So yeah, it's an interesting section in the book...but it almost broke my heart, and it definitely made me mad.
I have to admit, I'm not sure this entire book was for me. I liked random stories here and there, but some of them confused me or just didn't draw me in the same way others did. If you're interested in this type of book or historical fiction, I'd give it a try!