Book Review: “Ugly To Start With”

“Ugly To Start With” by John Michael Cummings

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Realistic Fiction

GoodreadsSource: The author [Thank you!]

Summary from Amazon:

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 from Italy charm his mother from the backseat of the family car. He stands up to an abusive husband—and then feels sorry for the jerk. He puts up with his father’s hard-skulled backwoods ways, his grandfather’s showy younger wife, and the fist-throwing schoolmates and eccentric mountain characters that make up Harpers Ferry—all topped off by a basement art project with a girl from the poor side of town.

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of “plot-less” stories. You know stories that are more about the characters rather than a larger story. This book falls into that basic category but it was done in a different way. Rather than mesh together a bunch of smaller stories that kind of tell a story, the author chose to tell 13 different short stories about different times in Jason’s life. I really liked the story story aspect. You could read one, some, or all of the stories and not feel like you missed out too much. It certainly made it easier for me to read.

The author paints a really good picture of small town America. I appreciated that he didn’t take the charming small town route.  Realistically, small towns aren’t picturesque and charming. They are rough, gritty, and happy endings aren’t always possible. Instead, this book felt very true to life like you actually knew Jason.

I was amazed how the author was able to make you feel like you know Jason in just one story. It feels like you’ve read a whole book about him instead of ~20 pages. Each story is like that. It builds throughout the book so by the end you feel like you’ve seen all the sides of Jason.

The stories are all over the place. They cover a wide range of issues: poverty, racism, infidelity, etc. It was one of those books that almost had something for everyone.

Rating 3/5

If you’re into short stories, I’d highly advise you to pick this up.

Expert from the book.

What are your thoughts? (Comments are moderated. Yours will be up as soon as I read it!)

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