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Ugly to Start With

3.32  ·  Rating Details  ·  101 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
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
Published October 1st 2011 by Vandalia Press
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Aug 25, 2011 Idris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ugly to Start With is a book that has 13 chapters and each chapter represents a different story, but all the stories talk about Jason, a young boy who lives in West Virginia in the 1970s, and also talk about his family and his friends. So, in each chapter we have the opportunity to read about different issues and problems in his life, problems that kids of his age can find, like family problems, infidelity, sexuality, sex and racism.

This book was a big surprise for me, first, because I hadn't h
Jan 13, 2012 Grady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Full of hollers, twisting roads, and shadows.'

John Michael Cummings writes short stories like few other authors. Though his latest book - UGLY TO START WITH - is posted as a series of short stories, what it seems to this reader is a series of memory vignettes of not only a young boy Jason growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, but also a running dialogue of what it feels like taking the steps to becoming an adult for any boy. It is 'full of hollers, twisting roads, and shadows', to quote
Dec 08, 2011 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Holly by: John Michael Cummings
I was given a free copy of this by the author, so I feel obliged to give a good review of it while sharing my real opinion. And by "good", I mean worthwhile to read, not necessarily that I give it high marks just to give it high marks. It has to earn those.

This is the story of Jason Stevens, a young boy growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in the 1970s. Unlike a traditional story, this is more of a compilation of short stories taken from distinct moments in his early teen years.

I didn't
Nov 17, 2012 Owen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: notable
I was thinking this one over overnight. It's not like any other book (young adult or anything else) that I have read. Ugly To Start With explores new elements in fiction for young adults. The small town portrayed in this book is so different than the ones I've experienced. Harpers Ferry is more messed up then most, but there is also a strange feel of community.

The book is about a boy named Jason growing up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia during the 1970s. He has a dysfunctional family and the to
May 28, 2012 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Jason Stevens is a boy growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970's. His family doesn't have a lot of money and he is often treated unfairly by the people he cares about. The book is actually a collection of true short stories that are combined under one main character, Jason. The stories chronicle different periods of time in his life and how he survived them.

The earlier chapters of the book deal with Jason and his family. The family is embarrassed by their small house and rarely d
Mar 19, 2012 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was reviewed at my site, JV Radio Pictures by Garry Puffer

Ugly to Start With is a novel of the 1970’s, written in the first person by teenager Jason Stevens, who dreams of being an artist and getting out of Harper’s Ferry,

Full disclosure: I am basically a genre reader. I love mysteries, science fiction, horror, police procedurals, etc. I used to read “serious” literature, but I seldom do any more. I am less interested in a character’s inner being or with a writer’s pyrotechnics than I am in
Dana Burgess
Throughout this book, the one recurring thought I had was that I wanted to reach in and pull Jason out. I felt so sorry for this sweet boy growing up poor in such a hugely dysfunctional family. It often seemed like there was no one on his side - although he was his mother's favourite. Jason is like no one else he knows. He is artistic - soft. It takes almost the entire book before we realize that he is actually most like the one person in his life that he has the hardest time connecting with.

Short stories aren’t the same as novels. And literary shorts aren't even as simple as stories. They start somewhere after the beginning of the tale and end before the conclusion—at least, the ones I enjoy best do that, leaving the reader chasing after something precious, haunted by the need to catch up then hauntingly breathless as words run out.

John Michael Cummings’ Ugly to Start With is a set of literary stories that works just as well as a novel. Think Olive Kitteridge, or better still Kermi
J.D. Holiday
Jan 15, 2016 J.D. Holiday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
UGLY TO START WITH tells the story of a teenage boy, Jason Stevens whose life is anything but comfortable. His family is not well-off, not unlike many of the people around them in Harbors Ferry. Jason is sometimes treated unfairly by those around him. His mother is kind and guiding, but his father is eccentric and callous towards Jason.
The author has made Jason a vivid character. You see his curiosity lead him into new and even foreign experiences where he stays for the excitement. He learns t
Jim Read
Nov 22, 2011 Jim Read rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cummings perfectly describes the weird, wild West Virginia that he grew up in. His Harper's Ferry (and Charles Town and Bolivar) are painted perfectly, from the petty possessiveness of those who have too little, to the odd smugness of those who have just a little more. I grew up just ten miles away from where this book is set, and too often felt as though I was reading my own story. Like Stephen Dedalus caught in the meanness of parochial Dublin, Cummings' Jason Stevens is a sensitive, intellige ...more
Nov 07, 2014 RYCJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Good. The writing style is simple, direct, and very easy to read.

The Mmeh Okay. I warmed up to the smooth as silk dialogue and storytelling, falling most for the relationship John shared with his mother, as it is through his interactions with his father that augments the surliness at the heart of this tender collection of stories.

The Best Part. The overall experience of reading John’s stories reminded me a lot of what many children experience... that archaic rickety bridge parents often bui
Precious Mae
Aug 26, 2015 Precious Mae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-stars
Warning: others may find the book way too disturbing.

I had a hard time finishing this novel. Maybe because this is not the genre of book I always read but also I had a hard time because it was kind of disturbing in some parts. My first impression of the novel was a bit awkward and a bit innocent. But as I progressed with my reading, it was more of that. It wasn't that awkward and defintely not innocent.

The novel has thirteen different stories from thirteen different people. One link is about Jas
Wendy Hines
Feb 01, 2012 Wendy Hines rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ugly to Start With is a compilation of thirteen stories about childhood. Each story inter-connects with another, so it's a joy to see a familiar face when you begin a new tale.

The family believes that if it ugly to start with, or turned ugly; they were ashamed of it and wanted it to go away. When Skinny Minnie, the cat, had so many scabs she was ugly, they constantly tried to get her to go away. Some of the antics were very mean.

Then there’s Jason's friend's father who is the park superintende
Feb 02, 2012 Latoya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Someday I'll fly like the bird I can not see. Someday I'll love like the heart I can not feel. Someday I'll smile like the face I have not seen."

This is a series of short stories in which the author went into great detail about the characters and the setting, but there was no plot. The story is well written and is more of a window into Jason's emotions, his thoughts and life.I really feel like the reader will experience the levels of who Jason is and who he can become. I wanted to know more abo
Dec 24, 2011 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was worried at first when I began this book as it didn't seem to work for me, but as I progressed through I liked it better and better; for me the second half was much more interesting and engaging than the first half.

Let me cover the first half since it didn't work quite as well for me. I found the stories a bit interesting, but I felt as if I was missing something. Maybe it was me, but it felt like I didn't "get it" at first. True, I am not poor, not abused, and not a teenage boy, but I don'
Lulu (The Bookworm is Here!)

A very raw, colorful, intense book. Definitely not my normal read and one that I wouldn't find myself quite ready to read again. I give props to the author for tackling some hard-core issues in this book!

Throughout this short set of 13 stories I just couldn't quite get a feeling of who Jason was - no doubt at the stage in life he's at he doesn't know but I just didn't get a feel of him, I was confused and disconnected. The only person I liked in this book was his mother. She was what a mother sh
Tammy Dahle
My Thoughts:
This collection of short stories are told from main character Jason's point of view. Jason is growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. A quaint, historical tourist town divided between locals and rangers. Jason comes from a poor family whose house is sandwiched between restored, historical homes and tourist shops. To say that Jason is ashamed of his dilapidated, run down house is an understatement. The reader gets glimpses of Jason's life and relationships with each short story.
Allizabeth Collins

Ugly to Start With is a series of short stories documenting several events during Jason Stevens' 1970's journey through adolescence. Each story is narrated by Jason, but the time-order and subject matter varies throughout each section, ranging from family drama and first loves to the growing pains we eventually face. There were times that I really enjoyed this novel's set-up, but the seemingly random collection of stories sometimes left me confused, some of the stories bordering on bored
Jan 02, 2012 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Michael Cummings' writing reminds me of Sherman Alexie. While I was reading Ugly to Start With, I kept thinking about The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and how both books are made up of short stories that come together to form a whole. I love Sherman Alexie, and I liked it that Ugly to Start With reminded me of Alexie's writing.

My favorite story in Ugly to Start With was The Scratchboard Project. There is so much packed into that story that shows Jason's character, all the posi
Jun 03, 2012 Alana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This weekend, as I anticipate the arrival of my new kitty,(we get him tomorrow!) I distracted my excitement with John Michael Cummings Ugly to Start With. This book was a really suburb literary piece of work. There is no doubts that Cummings is a talent author with some incredible ideas. However, the short stories featured in this book really didn't connect with me. You get the point of them, how young Jason, an aspiring artist, figures out his fit in the interesting world he lives in, but they ...more
Jul 20, 2012 Emma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-ipad, reviewed
Review also posted on The Book Barbies.

A beautiful combination of heart-touching short stories.

Ugly To Start With is not a novel, but a compilation of short stories John Cummings had previously written. However, they all follow the life of Jason Steven growing up in the 70's. I'm not one for reading historical fiction, but it was beyond fascinating to see how the way people lived back then.

That being said, Jason leads no typical life even back then. From the very first chapter, it's evident tha
Splash Of Our Worlds *Yiota*
Review by Nina ( )

I remember when Yiota send me the e-mail in which the synopsis of the book was included, I told her that the book sounded really, really good, and that she should totally send me a copy. Unfortunately, the book was not what I was expecting.

Firstly, we have a perplex story. In each chapter we read different facts from Jason's life, in which the only common link is Jason himself. We cannot be sure if what we are reading is in a straight ch
Sophie Gonzales
Taken from my blog.

Ugly to Start With is a series of short stories all narrated by a teenage boy named Jason, and in each he tells us something new about what's going on in his life. The subject matters are all different, from sexual encounters to arguments with parents.

I got the impression that the setting was the most important aspect of it all, as Jason continually struggles with the small town minds of the Harpers Ferry residents. His big dream is to make it out of there and go to the city,
Aug 08, 2012 Paige rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Check out my review here:
Ugly To Start With is, by far, unlike any other book I have ever read. The book doesn't have a definitive plot and is, rather, a collection of short stories that are told through the point of view of Jason Stevens. Jason is a teenager growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in the 70's and throughout the short stories we see how he explores many different aspects not only of himself, but of his town, and the social pressures s
Jade Eby
Originally posted at my blog Chasing Empty Pavements

When I was approached by Mr. Cummings to read Ugly to Start With, I was a little apprehensive. While I love short stories, I wasn't quite sure how a series of them would work as a full novel. I am glad, however that I agreed to read and review Ugly to Start With because it was a pleasant surprise...and I'll be honest...the blurb intrigued me!

The Good: First of all, I actually really loved the short story approach to this novel. Once I was finis
Julianna Helms
Jan 02, 2012 Julianna Helms rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People looking for an interesting country book
Shelves: own-arc, e-stuff
Quick Reaction: Believable characters, unique situations, and edge-of-your-seat coincidences collide in this authentic novel of growing up in West Virginia. There were a few plot hole inconsistencies, and the overall story wasn't like, BAM!, I still really enjoyed it.

Actual, full review: Original is here. (Note: Due to copy-and-paste, formatting and links have been lost.)

Ugly to Start With is a book about sexuality, racism, and abuse, among other things. It is not a light read--and it's not for
Feb 01, 2012 Weronika rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, english
I was asked by the author to review this book, but what can I say, I really didn't feel connected to this book, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't my type of read. I just couldn't get a feeling of the boy. Each chapter is a different story, so they don't really follow each other, and I couldn't tell how much time has passed between them. The boy is supposed to be in this teens, but sometimes I felt like he was a child. So it would help a lot of the chapters had dates.

Jasons life deals with violen
Mar 25, 2012 Jordan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only real failing of this novel was with the person reading it. Me, that is. I wasn’t prepared for what was a novel of short stories strung together by the characters – more specifically and obviously, the narrator – they had in common. This, admittedly, is a gray area that my brain struggles with; I tend to prefer either a nice book of unconnected short stories or a nice novel and I have difficulty with anything in between. Like The House on Mango Street? I understand why people like it but ...more
Dec 28, 2011 Caressa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*I received this book for review from the publisher. All opinions from this point are strictly my own.

When I received a review request for this novel, I was ecstatic; I'd seen some very positive reviews from some of my close blogging friends. Ugly to Start With met the high expectations I set; I highly recommend this novel.
Ugly to Start With was a collection of short stories from the perspective of one boy. The stories were told extremely well. The novel managed to narrate a difficult storylin
Krista (CubicleBlindness Reviews)
I jumped into this book not realizing that it was a series of short stories about a young boy's life. Mostly coming of age, dealing with sexual confusion, poverty, racism, and family.
The fist couple of stories really focused more on his family, and mostly his father. He came off as really embarrassed about his house, his father's behavior and how he did not feel like he fit in with the kids. His father does not come into play much in the middle stories. These are in which he takes an interest m
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John Michael Cummings’ short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Iowa Review. Twice he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. His short story “The Scratchboard Project” received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007. His novella The House of My Father, from which his debut novel wa ...more
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