Book Review: Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Synopsis (from Goodreads.com): 
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. 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.

My Review: *I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.* 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.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Well said Amanda. I felt the same way - its just not in our age group but the book is actually very beautiful. Thanks for your honest words :)


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