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Ugly to Start With

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  99 ratings  ·  88 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 artis
Paperback, 168 pages
Published October 1st 2011 by Vandalia Press
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Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
'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
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
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
J.D. Holiday
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dana Burgess
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it
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.

Jim Read
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Katie Fitzgerald
Ugly to Start With is a collection of related short stories about Jason Stevens, a talented teen artist growing up poor in 1970s Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Though each story can stand on its own, each segment in this book also contributes to a larger portrait of family dysfunction and childhood unhappiness brought about by Jason’s alcoholic, racist, philandering father and the fact that Jason never feels masculine enough, interesting enough, or worthy enough to impress his dad.

I studied crea
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it
There have been authors who have brought little-known lands to life through their books, like Prince Edward Island in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, and the Guernsey Islands in Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Add to that list, author John M. Cummings’ Ugly to Start With, which is set in a small historic town of Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, USA.

As someone with not too much knowledge of the American Civil War (1861-65), Harpers Ferry proved
Nazish Ahmed (Nazish Reads)
I just reviewed this on my blog a few hours ago.
To view the full review and other reviews, click here Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

This is a standalone novel by John Michael Cummings. It has about 13 short stories of the main character (Jason Stevens), with different kinds of experiences.

The book starts with the short story called "The World Around Us," it's about how a street artist from Italy charms Jason's mother. After that are a bunch of other short stories, all different len
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
On reading the opening story “The World Around Us” from John Cummings collection of short stories, I knew that I was going to get a glimpse into small town America.
“Ugly to Start With” is a collection of interrelated stories that escapes being a novel simply because you can’t quite always connect the events, the people and the passing of time. The constants are our protagonist and narrator, a teenaged white boy, Jason and his home town of Harper Ferry.
I don’t usually read short stories and I am
Sep 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Ugly to Start with is essentially a collection of short stories that become the "chapters" of this novel. The main character, Jason, is an aspiring artists who just wants to leave his hick town, Harpers Ferry, in West Virginia. I have mixed feelings about this book. It leaves you unsettled the entire way through.

Jason is a sweet kid and it's not his fault that his family acts like a bunch of hermits/neanderthals. No one seems to understand his desire to achieve the higher things in life, the stu
Precious Mae
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult
Source: Sent from author for review.

Ugly to Start With is an ambitious and unique book , as short stories are not often marketed toward teen readers. The format alone had me intrigued before I began reading it, but I am torn as to whether I think it was a success. The chapters are not so much stories in my opinion, as they are snapshots of events in Jason’s life in which he struggles to decide who he is. They appear chronologically but do not always build upon each other in an evident manner, an
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Ugly To Start With is a collection of short stories from Jason Stevens's firs point of view as he matures and faces life's hard challenges. It's the 1970's in West Virginia, Jason Stevens is a growing boy who wishes to become an artist one day and get out of Harper's Ferry. The beginning chapters starts with his family, whom are very much dysfunctional. His father is verbally abusive and won't allow anyone into their small house, because he's ashamed of it. His mother acts like she's in la-la-la ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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 th
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
Nea Barabea
Review taken from my blog

The story is set in the 1970s. His father was a tipical man of history - you know, like only the man has a say in everything. The wife was closed in the kitchen when someone arrives at their home. He was kind of mean to their children. Uh, I didn't like him. But at least his mother stood up at one point and I was glad about it.

The writing of this book is really good. The author made a good job with it ;) The story on the other hand, well, it's a story I've never came a
Sophie B
Jul 06, 2012 rated it liked it
The book is made up of thirteen short stories, each of them interconnecting. I found out from the acknowledgments that they were originally published separately in magazines, but personally I think they work better in one volume

These are not the sweet, picturesque stories of a young boy bridging the gap between child and manhood. No, these are not happy stories. Jason's family is surrounded by shame. They're ashamed of their house, of each other, of the people around them. Many- no, most of the
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Christine Staszko
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 reall ...more
Julianna Helms
Dec 29, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-cups, ya
Originally published at Ruby's Books

his was a very interesting book. Set in the 70s, the story shows you different chapters from Jason's life, a teenager living in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

The stories are all strong and some are sad and filled with so much irony it was a little painful. Jason is living in a small town, where everyone knows everyone and where you're judged by the size of your house or the street you live in or some other simple things, like is you nod or wave to your neighbors ev
Jade Eby
Dec 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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John Michael Cummings is the author of three novels and more than one hundred short stories. His debut novel, The Night I Freed John Brown (Penguin Group, 2008), won The Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (Grade 7-12) and was selected for Black History Month by USA Today.

Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press, 2011) was a finalist in the Foreword INDIES Book of Year Award. Don't

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