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Ugly to Start With
     

Ugly to Start With

3.7 28
by John Michael Cummings
 

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Ugly to Start With punctuates the exuberant highs, bewildering midpoints, and painful lows of growing up, and affirms that adolescent dreams and desires are often fulfilled in surprising ways.

Overview

Ugly to Start With punctuates the exuberant highs, bewildering midpoints, and painful lows of growing up, and affirms that adolescent dreams and desires are often fulfilled in surprising ways.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Beautiful and gut-wrenchingly raw.”
Blake Nelson, author of Paranoid Park, Destroy All Cars, and Recovery Road

"The linked stories inUgly to Start With invite us into one boy's life on the margins of historic Harpers Ferry. With an appropriate balance of grit and wonder, John Cummings crafts a coming-of-age narrative of a son striving for the truest expression of his identity in the midst of a family and a place where he often feels like an outsider. These stories have a hard edge to them and a hard-earned wisdom, the sort we only get in retrospect if we're lucky."
Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and Break the Skin

"By turns tender, witty and unsettling, Ugly to Start With is a strong and memorable collection.  The stories are carried along by Cummings' graceful prose and pacing, and are charged with the class and racial tensions encoded in the DNA of the United States.  As a group they sketch a compelling portrait of a boy [adolescent?] trying to make sense of his town, his father, and ultimately himself."
Brendan Short, author of Dream City

"John Michael Cummings' prose is anything but Ugly to Start With - I read this book in two sittings, and  it was hilarious and melancholy and singular.  I've never read about a Harpers Ferry, or a family, like this, and their conversations, their houses, and their lives deserve a wide audience.  I can't wait to pass this book along."
Susan Straight is the author of seven novels, including Highwire Moon, a Finalist for the National Book Award and a Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at University of California, Riverside.

"John Cummings’ collection of short stories, Ugly to Start With, breathes in the atmosphere of  Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which plays a central role in many of the conflicts over innocence and experience, development and preservation, insider and outsider, and nature and community.  In this lively and sufficient landscape are a trio—a young boy, his mother, and  his father, who face the complexities of  knowledge of place. Sometimes knowing is painful.  In other stories, there are momentary reprieves or insights provided by the boy’s sharp and wry view of life where “clocks had stopped long ago,” “one big tree” suffices to hide a multitude of sins, and in his crying he can hear his own future unhappiness echo through his body.  This a lovely, funny, melancholy, and important collection of coming-of-age stories."
Maxine Chernoff, author of A Boy in Winter

“In Ugly to Start With, John Michael Cummings has gathered a baker’s dozen of stories full of the warmth, innocence, and holy terrors of childhood. An auspicious debut.”
Peter Selgin, author of Drowning Lessons

“Pitch-perfect West Virginia voices.”
Enid Shomer, author of Tourist Season: Stories

“Like Faulkner, Cummings knows the strong undertow that blood exerts on ambition and self-preservation.”
Charlotte Holmes, Associate Professor, Penn State University. Her stories have appeared in many journals including Epoch, New Letters, Story, and The New Yorker

“Sparkling, deeply intelligent, and often heartbreakingly funny.”
Eileen Pollack, Director, MFA Program in Creative Writing, University of Michigan and author of The Rabbit in the Attic, In the Mouth, and Paradise

“Like Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield, John Michael Cummings’ teenage narrator reveals the troubled and tender and tough heart of a place both split and knit by class, race, and family.”
Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys With the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam and Prisoners

"In Ugly to Start With John Michael Cummings tells the story of a uniquely unhappy family with a gracious but disgruntled mother and an idiosyncratic, autocratic, sometimes brutal father who doesn’t believe in having guests or letting anything go to waste. The father with his extremism in self-reliance binds the family together for a while, but then is the cause of its flying apart. The stories embrace other painfully failed families and individuals- all richly human and somehow, seen though the eyes of the young main character, hopeful even in despair."
Meredith Sue Willis, author of Oradell at Sea

“John Cummings is a prolific American short story writer and among the most talented of the rising generation of new regionalists  who have inherited the mantle of Bobbie Ann Mason, Barry Hannah and Larry Brown.  In Ugly to Start With, a series of thirteen interrelated stories set in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, he tackles the challenges of boyhood adventure and family conflict in a taut, crystalline style that captures the triumphs and tribulations of small-town life.  Not since John Brown's raid has Harpers Ferry generated such excitement for readers.   Cummings has a gift for transcending the particular experiences to his characters to capture the universal truths of human affection and suffering—emotional truths that the members of his audience will recognize from their own experiences of childhood and adolescence.  Cummings is a gifted author who has paid his literary dues, publishing numerous short stories in the nation's most prestigious journals.  As readers, we are fortunate that he has waited so long to produce a first collection, as he is now able to gather together the very best of his short prose  Needless to say, none of his stories disappoint.   Each story is a riveting psychological journey, a reminder of what it's like to be young and hopeful and uncertain.  This collection has defined West Virginia's eastern panhandle as Cummings country, as much as the Salinas Valley belongs to Steinbeck or working-class Albany belongs to William Kennedy. “
Jacob Appel, author of “Dyads” and “The Vermin Episode”

Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Less a structured novel than a collection of breathtakingly sharp memories, readers may recognize emotional similarities to themselves in some of the stories. The narrator is Jason Stevens, a teenage boy, wanting to be an artist growing up in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. His family lives in a house that his father believes is hidden from view by the tree out front, but Jason is uncomfortably aware that it has been allowed to decay into a marginally habitable structure that lacks a functioning sewer and has mold spots on the kitchen ceiling from a leaky toilet on the floor above. His mother, who initially appears oblivious to her circumstances, evicts his father from the house in one of the later stories. Jason himself is a contradiction, sympathetic and unlikeable, both kind and cruel to a stray cat, for example, and not admitting his true motivation for seeking out a classmate to use as a model for an art project, even as he feels shame for his inability to see her as a person with problems as real as his own. The stories do not end where readers will hope that they do, and where they lead will prove uncomfortable to some. With dialogue that is pitch perfect and sparse back story, readers will be left with more questions than answers. Challenging but satisfying. Reviewer: Ellen Welty

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781935978084
Publisher:
West Virginia University Press
Publication date:
10/01/2011
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
178
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

John Michael Cummings is a short story writer and novelist from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He is the award-winning author of The Night I Freed John Brown.

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Ugly to Start With 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
kaylaTHEbookworm More than 1 year ago
¿ Review: Ugly to Start With is a prime piece about growing up during puberty. The world around you is strange, while you feel strange yourself. Cummings really gets that, which is greatly displayed in his book. The character of Jason is someone, even a female, can relate to during this time. The book is comprised of some very hilarious anecdotes that makes you sit back and wonder about your own life¿ when did I feel this way? Was my family like that? Were they worse? Aside from puberty the book dives into some really big issues- racism and classism. I think it is hard for a writer to attach subjects like that without having that ¿I said it, but didn¿t really mean it¿ sort of thing. However, Cummings manages to attack the issues without that cop out. Throughout the entire novel I sat thinking about class and race and compared it to my own surroundings and felt myself questioning why this still happens and has anything really changed in the last forty years. Kudos to Cummings for taking on two very big issues. Some of my favorite parts of the book were the most "scandalous" because of how deep and raw they were. I guess the best example of this is the chapter entitled "Carter." You have Jason and this old man and you start feeling like Jason finally has someone, but then things turn and you sit there and realize that is what the world is really like. Jason's art is a key aspect of the book. I think Cummings did an exceptional job here as well, connecting this to the rest of Jason's life and experiences. This isn't just throughout the novel, but very specifically at the end where it helps to bring the novel full circle. There were a few parts of the book that did not sit with me well, but then again it may have just been bothersome for me as opposed to being ¿bad¿ in general. For example, there is a narrative about a cat named Skinny Minnie and the treatment of the cat and the way Jason reacted to it put a sour taste in my mouth. Again, it might have just been the idea that bothered me as opposed to the actual story. Another aspect that I also felt lacking was clarification. In a couple instances I was reading and new information as presented without being clarified right away, but later in the story when I was already confused. This not only caused confusion, but I was also rereading good chunks the chapters, which isn¿t necessarily a bad thing, but when you are trying to get through a book for the first time, going back and forth several times can be a bit off putting. As far as the construction of the book, I very much enjoyed how the book was short narratives compiled into one book and not necessarily a flowing story. I think had this been a flowing story it would have lacked a larger plot line, but each on standing on its own really gave you a hilarious anecdotes. The book is filled with witty zingers, as I like to call them. ¿ Favorite Quotes: "However many miles away the city was, it wasn't far. If you shut your eyes and counted, it was counting to sixty, sixty times. If you went by minutes, it was only a little more than an hour, and a little more than an hour was nothing, just "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" back to back." (page 5) "The chest was an obvious seat. Dad liked having Grandma sit on it, on account of what was in it- half a dozen dud grenades, different kinds of combat knives, live bullets for machine guns, and other war things my fat
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ugly to Start With is divided into 13 chapters; and though they are in chronological order, they don't necessarily follow each other. It's more like 13 glimpses into Jason Stevens life over a period of indeterminate years of his adolescence. However, I still felt like I got to know Jason as a character and believed his journey through the most confusing time in almost anyone's life. Cummings doesn't pull any punches as far as content - he tackles abuse, sexuality, racism, familial disfunction, deliquency - but I could tell that he used restraint in the narration of such serious and often uncomfortable topics. That being said, be forewarned there is some very strong language. (It was still a little out of my comfort zone.) It isn't the feel-good story of the year, by any means, and yet, there is some feeling of triumph overall (most specifically the last two chapters). It gives you hope for Jason's future. Ugly is tightly written, has a strong voice, and is emotionally engaging. Despite the sometimes (not all of it!) heavy content, I found it a fascinating read, and found myself drawn back to it out of curiosity. What would happen to Jason next? How would he cope with it? It also has many moments that show Jason's geniune naivety and humor. I would give it 7/10 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On the road I have often passed little towns with fenced houses, some glossy and new, just as in magazine ads and some falling apart, as if they have seen decades of rain. I have often wondered about the lives of the people inside. On reading the opening story “The World Around Us” from John Cummings collection of short stories, I knew that I was going to find some answers and 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 not a frequent reader of American fiction, however, I was pulled in from the first story. Cummings uses the opening story “The World Around Us’ to pin the location of Harper’s Ferry not only geographically but also to drive home the nature of the mundane existence of Jason’s boyhood. There is this really funny exchange of dialog in which Jason and his mother argue about the distance of Harper’s Ferry from Washington DC and whether that’s long enough to justify never visiting the capital. With “Two Tunes” we get a glimpse of Jason’s dysfunctional home which has its moments of redemption. The rest of the stories we are introduced to some other characters in Harper’s Ferry that Jason or his family has had to deal with. As a reader your heart often reaches out to Jason’s pitiful existence, but Cumming’s keeps the narrative light and does not get into philosophizing. “The Scratchboard Project” is another endearing story tackling adolescence love. I like how Cumming’s describes Jason’s reaction into stepping for the first time into an African-American household, and his confusion and mumbling respect. Everything is new and weird, but only when he gets to know his classmate Ty better, does he realize that how similar and more human they both are in spite of the color of their skin. It may sound clichéd but my favorite story of the lot is “Ugly to Start with” which is the story of a cat which the family adopts. Skinny Minnie is beautiful and brings comfort to the family but soon she falls sick and gets into fights into with other cats. As her usefulness wanes off so does the interest of the family . There was something about this story that was too close to the shallowness of human nature, that makes us want to look into our inner selves. I remember that I wanted to cry when I finished reading it The story that I least enjoyed was “We never liked them anyway”. It’s pivotal in the way that it exposes the relationship between Jason’s parents but it does refer to his precarious and non-existent circle of friends and the danger of gossips of small town. I just find that distasteful. Cumming’s writing is fluid. The language is simple, effective and potent. Some of the chapters are really well written. I am not a one who usually judges a book by it’s cover, but there is something very displeasing about the cover art of “Ugly to Start With”. It’s as if it’s incomplete and if I were to see this in a store or even in an online book store I would skip it unless someone had told me that I must read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aminahcc More than 1 year ago
Brilliant, pure and true. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for the mature reader. The reader is "there," feeling and living the pages of the stories. It is raw in its honesty of Jason, a teenage boy experiencing life in a unique setting, but, for many, not in so unique circumstances as it covers many experiences young people face and often leave unspoken. It is a story written in a series of short stories that pulls together a common theme of a teenager's dreams struggling against the realities of his life ending with an uneasy hope and a softly whispered, "wow."
emmadelacroix More than 1 year ago
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 that his family has problems every family does, and even more. Jason, out of his two brothers, is the one his father seems to pick on most, and is his mother's favourite. His father is slightly abusive and too aggressive and you can see how that's affected Jason as a person. Each chapter deals with a completely different situation in Jason's life. I had trouble keeping up with the pace. It tended to jump from place to place with no obvious start or end. However, each chapter individually was written in a beautiful prose, clear and detailed. I think the most memorable chapter for me was Ugly To Start With, which is the third chapter. John Cummings talks of a beautiful stray cat with thick white fur. It was welcome to the Steven's household, often keeping Jason company. That was until the day the cat got into fights with the neighbouring cats and ultimately got her perfectly white fur marred with blood. Tainted by the violence, the Steven's no longer wanted her near. "Night after night, I heard her crying. A long, painful cry that wouldn't stop. I covered my ears with pillows, but still I could hear it. The Groves' fat cats were picking on her. I opened my window and shot my BB gun into the dark, trying to hit her or whatever was scaring her, to make the whole thing go away." It's a sad realization that nobody wants to face the unfortunate side of life but everyone has to. There are those 'unspeakable' things that people never want to think of again but demand to be confronted. It's those hardships that people find hardest to overcome. Ugly To Start With is a book full of brilliant moments that are seemingly insignificant but ultimately define the steps in one's life. Unforgettable.
Nancy_TumblingBooks More than 1 year ago
Ugly To Start With is a collection of 13 stories describing different moments in a young boy's life. I have never read a book of short stories (out of my own free will without a teacher harassing me) so Ugly To Start With was a new experience for me. That being said, the stories were really good! I didn't think that I would be able to follow along with what was going on because it didn't follow a strict story line like other books. However, I found myself knowing more about Jason Stevens (the boy in the story) than some of the characters in other books. I learned about his character, his family, his relationships, and many of the important details of what makes a person who he/she is. Some of the stories I loved so much that I WISHED that they were made into full-length books! They were captivating and I just wanted to keep reading them, so when they came to an end it was a bit disappointing. John Michael Cummings did a wonderful job in making the stories powerful and informative, they were brief and to the point, which I really liked. They provided me with a full story without being bogged down by unnecessary details. Overall, the book was great and I just wished the stories were longer or there were more of them so that I could keep reading. If any of them ever become a full-length book I am TOTALLY reading it!
Daniela07 More than 1 year ago
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-land half the time and his brothers don't seem very helpful. Later on Jason faces challenges such as animal brutality (Which absolutely broke my heart), his sexuality, poverty, and making other difficult choices in life as he grows older. Ugly To Start With was raw and intensely touching. I'll admit that it's not the type of book up my alley, but I found myself liking it far more than I expected. Yes, I did have a problem with the choppy time sequencing, but that was only for a second or two. I even got comfortable with it, it's a refreshing read. But it might not be for everyone. The book focuses on a lot of delicate subjects that make most people find uncomfortable (such as sexual harassment, racism, diseases, poverty, etc.). Maybe I found myself liking this one because I could relate to Jason at some points, and some of the things he went through weren't as unsettling to me because I was accustomed to it already, but I can't say the same for everyone. The stories had a smooth flow and I loved the way Cummings described everything in a very picturesque manner. It made it easier for me to imagine everything and believe in the things that happened. Jason was a really interesting character who developed along the way, learning from everything he faced and making him stronger. His reaction to everything was realistic and sometimes heart-wrenching. Overall, I really really liked Ugly To start With. Cummings found a way to express the truth without having to be so blunt. He made it easier to understand and far more emotional, showing us what we sometimes don't want to be shown and making us think about things we like to keep in the dark without really getting us upset about it. As I mentioned before, this type of book isn't generally up my alley so I don't have that much experience reviewing them, but I would definitely give this one 4 out of 5 stars. It's a very powerful read that'll stay with you for a really long time.
The_Paperback_Pursuer More than 1 year ago
Review: 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 boredom. I much prefer novels where there are clear plot-lines and an ordered sequence of events. As for the setting and characters, I have visited Harper's Ferry and I love how John Michael Cummings depicted the area, the characters were nicely developed as well, although I wish I would have been able to get to know them a little bit better; maybe even figure out why everyone acted so callous to one another. My favorite sections were "The Scratchboard Project" and "We Never Liked Them Anyway". I was not a fan of the "Ugly to Start With" section, what happened with Skinny Minnie was just evil, (no spoilers). Recommended for readers who would enjoy a more unique take on the short story, and those in the mood for a coming-of-age tale about growing up. Rating: Bounty's Out (3.5/5) *** I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
LivresetBiscuits More than 1 year ago
This collection of short stories follows the same protagonist, Jason, through different periods of his life. Although the stories are not truly connected, they all allow the reader to come to know Jason and how he develops his character through different encounters and events. Also, each story presents a subtle social issues that are present in the american society. For me, Ugly to Start with is an example of how a story can be told with minimum words and still have all the necessary ingredients to tackle the imagination and make the reader aware of certain issues. Despite the clever writing style, I did not enjoy reading the book. I found it sometimes difficult to concentrate, although the last story "The Sketch Project" was really well done. I liked how the issues of racial differences was presented through the relationship between Jason and Shani.
HezziD More than 1 year ago
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 do they let anyone inside. Whenever anyone does get inside the entire family is tense and jumpy. Jason's father is verbally abusive and takes out his shortcomings on Jason. There's a chapter that deals with Jason's friends, one of whom is homosexual and another who is mentally retarded. In each chapter another issue comes in to play and we find how Jason reacts to it. The issues run the gauntlet from family problems and infidelity to sexuality and racism. I found that the way Jason acts in each of these situations is very realistic though not consistent. He often acts one way in one situation but then does a complete 180 in another situation. This is most likely because each chapter is a story from a different person. The book is different from most books I've read though it is enjoyable. It's thought provoking on so many different issues. It's a little hard to follow at times because because it jumps around so much. I also enjoyed this collection because I live fairly close to Harper's Ferry and was able to picture many of the places the author was writing about. Many of the families in my area are similar to Jason's family and the entire book felt very real to me. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.
GHott More than 1 year ago
Memories. As James recounts the memories he has of his family and his life he takes readers through the many facets of living. His highs and lows as so similar yet so different from many others. Walk with James though his teenage years and remember when life was simpler, harsher, and yet so much more.
CelineNyx More than 1 year ago
Ugly to Start With is a collection of short stories that describe Jason's life growing up in 1970s small town West Virginia. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. With a title like Ugly to Start With I expect some kind of bizarre semi-realistic romp through childhood. What I got was a well thought-through string of stories that all highlighted a little part of Jason's personality. They were all very well-written and polished. There were no loose ends or stories that I didn't understand the meaning of, which is quite an accomplishment in this genre. A LOT is wrong in Jason's life, from his highly dysfunctional family to the racism that raged through the States and everything in between. Yet Ugly to Start With is a hopeful book that shines in some passages. It was nice to see that meaningful books don't have to be depressing but can be enjoyable to read. I liked reading about all the different characters that make up the little town of Harpers Ferry, all strange in their own way. At moments I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly, I wanted to know what would happen next. Ugly to Start With is a great little book, and I would love to read something from Mr Cummings again.
LetsBookIt More than 1 year ago
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. ugly to start with is dark but compelling. Mr Cummings does a great job of drawing the reader into Jason's life and experiences. The first chapter change confused me, mostly because I was expecting continuity. Instead, the chapter breaks move the reader through time and circumstances. It was a startling shock the first time but once I knew to expect it, things got better. Many of the events of Jason's life are very disturbing and off putting but it's like a train wreck - I just couldn't quit reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IBlog__YouRead More than 1 year ago
Ugly To Start With is for a mature audience that is willing to digest the reality that Jason lives. He is the reader’s observer and serves as the interpreter for the characters of Harpers Ferry. This is a book that I feel that adults will enjoy and teens that are serious about life. Author Cummings writing allows Jason to admit his true dream and take it no matter the sacrifice or the opinion of others. I feel teens and parents will be able to see both sides of a dream. Specifically a dream that doesn’t always come out profitable but a dream that will guarantee a person’s happiness as long as they are doing what they love.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
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 Kermit Moyer’s The Chester Chronicles. The stories have been published in various journals before, so you know from the start the writing will be good. But together they form a powerfully evocative novel of a young man’s coming-of-age in the wrong part of 1970s Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Washington D.C., only sixty-five miles away, might as well be on the moon, as might the gated community where Jason’s grandfather lives, or the ramshackle squalor of an African American town next door. A poor boy in an increasingly affluent city, a small boy in a world of the muscled and strong, an artist where finer sensibilities are generally despised, Jason’s struggles to fit in and find friendship play over a backdrop of junkyard, mountain and town, where the passage of time really does change things and people, and death is just a part of life, whether of cat or friend or family. As I read the later stories in this collection I found myself thinking of Beethoven’s symphonies. Okay, it's a strange analogy I suppose, but I remember that feeling of a perfect ending, that moment when you want to pause and take breath and think “Wow,” but the music plays on, to another wow, to another, until the end. A friend tried to teach me musical appreciation and said Beethoven’s 'problem' was he didn’t know how to end, but it’s also part of what makes his music unique. In John Michael Cummings’ stories I found the same feeling—the end of a scene, the indrawn breath, the “Wow,” but the story’s not done. I almost wished there were chapter divisions, or blank lines (perhaps there were and I missed them on my kindle) or some other separator so I could pause for longer. But I read on to another Wow, and on. Recurring characters become vivid and real. The world shrinks and expands. Washington and dreams of art draw closer. And this collection of stories ends with one final “Wow” and the feeling I’ve just read a classic. It’s billed as young adult but I don’t suppose I’m young, so can’t it be for all of us? Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
Rubys_books More than 1 year ago
This 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 every day. The book touches a lot of difficult, touchy subjects, like racism, homosexuality, cancer, alcoholism, poverty, physical abuse, but Cummings manages to combine these subjects so well and even though you might cringe at some point, you're still intrigued and you still turn the page, wanting to know more. There were moments in the book where I couldn't relate to Jason at all, like in Ugly to Start With, when he rejects a cat because she was ugly, the same cat that had stayed by his bed when he was sick. I couldn't empathize with him, but I somehow understood his reasons for rejecting her. Then there where the moments where I completely understood him, like in We Never Liked Them Anyway, where he tries to lash out at the boy who's been bullying him for a very long time and Jason does that when the boy was hurt. I loved the open ending. It kind of gave me a sense that Jason has the ball now, he can make the big decision of whether or not he should leave Harpers Ferry and become an artist or stay in his hometown and see his dreams ruined. Though part of me wanted a firm ending, the certainty that Jason will in fact leave his hometown and continue his education, I can see how that ending is an interesting subject to talk about and debate. All in all, the books was a good read. If you're not bothered by the occasional cursing, then you should read it.
Amanda_Jane More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book for the most part. I don't really think it's quite right for my age group, and it's not the kind of book I normally read. There were a few parts that made me squirm a bit (parts I skipped), and the I'm not a big fan of cussing. Luckily the whole book wasn't like that. I really like the way the book was written. It's almost like a collection of short stories, but all about the same person and they happen in order. The way it's written and the way it flows sort of makes you think about it. Like taking a step back to digest it all. It's a short book, but it doesn't read very fast. I don't mean it's slow, its just not something you can speed through. I liked the characters a lot, too. I thought that the author put a lot of thought into them, and I thought they were well-developed. It was interesting to get a peek into Jason's life. I didn't feel like I got much more than just a peek, though. I think the book shows a good understanding of a lot of issues, particularly of growing up and prejudices, and how people deal with them. Overall, I think it's a fantastic book. Beautifully written. It just wasn't the right book for me. 3.5 Stars.
BookReaperCS More than 1 year ago
Okay, the first thing that I wasn't expecting was that this book was made up of short stories. I was in a stage of first confusion, but than with me continue reading I came to an understanding. Of which I enjoyed. The author was able to make Jason, a vivid character, and was able through words to make his being stand out. Especially,in the lifestyle that he currently presides in. Jason, throughout this book, understands hard truths through the many imperfections of other people. From learning the actual reality, he becomes a strong man. I have a strong self-assurance that he will make it through life. I enjoyed the different short stories, and I believe that this book, brings about a different perspective to the world of books.This book gave me a message that reality isn't always something someone would look for. I recommend these short stories that are complied together in one book, should be read. I give this book 4 souls!
JDHoliday51 More than 1 year ago
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 the hard truths from the imperfections of others about life itself. He is smart enough to realize he is not much better than his abusers when he does to them or others what was done to him. I enjoyed this book immensely, yet cringed at Jason’s sometimes harsh reality. At other times it was like being there with him through my own upbringing. By the end I felt sure that Jason would find his way in life. I love short stories and writing them myself. I enjoy the challenge of compacting all that is needed to tell one. Through this collection of short stories, John Michael Cummings has a well written and memorable novel. This book is not for everyone because of some risky subjects. A good read for adults. ~Author and Illustrator JD Holiday
cubicleblindnessKM More than 1 year ago
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 more in finding friends, meeting a homosexual neighbor and becoming a little confused about himself. Then into getting to know some of the other kids, getting teased for where he lived and who is father is. The book leaves us with him being a little more sure footed about his sexuality, his family and him wanting to pursue art. There is a lot of strong language as well as sexual content. It's an interesting take on how to tell the story of one boys life by dividing it into stories of events that made the most impact in his childhood. It's a confusing time of life and these stories all represent some powerful, disturbing but informative events that most of us today are still asking ourselves. Thank you to the author for sending me the copy for review.
librarymuse More than 1 year ago
"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 about what happened to Jason and felt like the ending left me hanging with more questions. That said, this book touches on many subjects of sexuality, race, abuse, fidelity, love and family, which anyone can find something they can relate to in this book. I found myself feeling sad and angry for Jason, when he said that his father wanted his mother to get rid of him.....what child should have to ever hear that? Disturbingly realistic and emotionally raw this collection of short stories was an insightful read.
KellyTheBookscapeReport More than 1 year ago
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 positive and negative things about him. Of course, a lot of the negative things about him, like his instances of racism, come from his parents and the environment he grew up in, but the positive things come from his realizing that parents aren't always right, although he never acknowledges it. I liked seeing both sides of him because it made him more realistic as a character. I loved how we get to know the other characters through Jason's perspectives of them. I love how Jason doesn't just describe people based on what they look like. One of my favorite descriptions of another character in the book was when Jason described his mother by saying that for her, pictures are as good as the real thing, and that she has a coffee table book of Italian pottery that has the pictures she talks about in it. It tells us so much about Jason's mother, and it tells us so much about he sees her. There were parts of the book that made me cringe, not necessarily in a bad way, but in way where I was thinking, "Is this really happening?" or "Did he really just say/think that?" One story that had me cringing throughout was Carter. It was a really tough story to read because of the subject matter, but it was so well-written that even though I hesitate to say I enjoyed it, because of the subject matter, it certainly did hold my interest. John Michael Cummings did a fabulous job with this book. From the beginning to the end, it held my interest. The writing was wonderful, the characters were great, the imagery was vivid. As far as short story collections go, this is a short story collection that is absolutely worth reading.
LuluTheBookworm More than 1 year ago
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 should be; protective and caring - the only ray of sunshine in this book. The variety of personalities in this 'story' is quite a range, I'm surprised at how each individual was composed of different qualities. The characters and plot were very layered and I think would create quite the discussion! I was uncomfortable with some of the situations and subjects; in particular the chapter regarding Carter. Truthfully I had to skip it and I don't think I could have read that bit. It was just too ... mature, disturbing? There was an excessive use of cursing in here that made me squirm too, I mastered the ability to fly over the words I didn't want to process. The chapters, were like I said before, separate accounts in different points in Jason's life and I couldn't follow too well. All that being said, I can see that the author has a deep understanding of events in the world. He has this insight and touches on many different subjects; abuse, prejudice, harassment, and others. It shows skill to tackle these. There were a couple accounts that interested me too. Overall, I just don't think this was the book for me - or my age group. I would say if you are thinking about this book, look into different reviews and then decide for yourself if you want to read it. Apparently most others (on Goodreads) think this was a great book but its definitely for older audiences. Mr. Cummings, great job - it just wasn't for me!