Author: John Michael Cummings
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
First Published: 2011
Page Count: 168
Film/ TV Adaptation: No
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Made up of 13 different short stories, Ugly to Start With expertly leads the reader through the adolescent years of a small town boy with real heart.
*Great variety of short stories for each chapter *Many different themes represented in one book
“Whatever it was, if it was ugly to start with, or turned ugly, we were ashamed of it and wanted it to go away.” Jason lives in the small, historical town of Harpers Ferry. Art is his passion, but navigating through the trials and tribulations of his teenage years will test his character and determine his future. Jason encounters racial and class based prejudice, while also trying to understand his family and the people around his West Virginia town.
From start to finish this book is consistently a great read. Each chapter tells a different story about the main character, Jason, as he goes through his adolescence. Some chapters are funny, dramatic, thoughtful, or sad, including one dismal chapter about a cat named Skinny Minnie that had me in tears by the third page. I enjoyed the change that each new chapter brought; not only do you learn more about the main character but you discover more about the people and town of Harpers Ferry. I really never had any reason to put the book down because each page brought a refreshing piece to the overall story. Because the chapters are all different, this gives the author the opportunity to cover many different themes such as equality or sexuality. Our adolescent years are when our eyes are opened to so many different parts of our society that might have been hidden from us before, and the fact that the book addresses so many of these important themes reflects the complex learning process we all experience in our teen years as we grow up.
The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. Why? Because I wanted more! Ok, but in all seriousness, the final chapter didn’t have anything that really distinguished itself from the other chapters except a bit of a closing in the last pages. I would have liked to have a more closed feeling at the end then what is given. I feel like the story just cuts off instead of leaving us with a cleaner picture of where the character is going based on all of his experiences.
Either way, hands down this is a book you need to read. It’s short and simple but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t lack power. And I think if a book’s only problem is that it made me want more of it, then that says something about the quality of the story. I could definitely see this book being assigned in a high school class right next to The Catcher in the Rye when discussing coming of age stories but it’s also, in general, an interesting tale that adults can find enjoyment in as well.