Ugly To Start With

First Lines: On our way back from town, Mom and I spotted Ernesto, the new artist in Harpers Ferry, walking along the highway.  We shot past and I begged her to stop.  She looked at me as if for the life of her she couldn’t understand me.

About a month ago, I was approached by the author to give a review of his book on my blog.  Weeks later, I received my free copy in the mail and had at it.  I was a bit concerned since this isn’t the kind of book I usually read.

In 13 related short stories, we see the life of Jason Stevens as he spent his early teenage years in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in the 1970s.  There are racial tensions, broken families, and general teenage problems with discovering identity.

I’d like to say again: I was given a copy of this by the author.  Therefore, my review may not be as unbiased as I’d like it to be.  But in my view, if you want me to review your story, I’m going to make it a worthwhile and meaningful review.  So here it goes.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like the structure of the story.  Breaking it into 13 short stories that cover an undefined span of time was going to fracture the way a normal story is told.  It wasn’t going to flow the same way.  However, in the end, I actually thought it told the story better than if these had all been linked together like a normal novel.  It gave a more complete picture of Jason and his life.

A natural problem with fractionating a story is that character development goes out of whack, and I very much enjoy my character development.  The only characters who were consistently present were Jason and his parents.  Other than that, nearly every character that showed up was only there for that chapter.  It made it very difficult at times to keep with the story, since it was like starting over every chapter.  New characters, new situations, new relationships.  Sometimes, I really didn’t know what was going on because it jumped right into the action without looking at the characters.  I didn’t know the backstory.

Jason was sometimes a hard character for me to like, but his situations were entirely universal. There were always moments I could relate to in every story, whether it was his struggle for identity, his trouble with friends, or the very uncomfortable situations he found himself in occasionally.

There were some sweet moments that occurred, especially in the chapter titled “The Scratchboard Project”.  It’s the one story I liked but didn’t like at the same time.  The middle was great, touching.  It was sandwiched by moments that didn’t sit right with me, for whatever reason.

Finally, I just want to say that I am very glad I was given this opportunity.  I never would have heard of it otherwise and now it’s an addition to my library.

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