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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Steplings


Steplings is an absorbing coming-of-age novel about Jason, a young man from north Texas whose world seems to be falling apart around his ears.  Although his problems are largely the result of his own poor choices, neither is Jason blessed with the kind of parenting that might have helped him avoid the mess he has made of his life.  His mother has been dead for a few years, and his father has recently married an emotionally brittle, high-powered attorney with an eleven-year-old daughter of her own.  Jason, finding it difficult to adjust to his new home situation, is regularly butting heads with his father and barely speaks to his new “stepling” and her mother. 

As bad as that sounds, Jason’s home life is still preferable to what he faces when he steps outside the house.  Jason’s problems, numerous and crippling as they are, all stem from his impending separation from the only girl he has ever loved.  Lisa’s parents do not consider him good enough for their daughter, and Jason seems determined to prove them right.  If his dropping out of school just two months before graduation did not prove their point, now Jason has a Monday court date to answer assault charges connected to an incident he was too high to understand clearly while it was happening. 

Lisa has decamped for Austin, and the University of Texas, where she will be studying pre-med.  Jason’s former classmates have made plans to get on with the rest of their lives – and he feels abandoned and alone.  When Lisa sends him a classic “Dear John” letter just three days before his court date, Jason knows that if he does not see her soon he will lose her forever.  Hitchhiking to Lisa’s Austin dorm room does not seem like a big deal – until Emily, his new stepling, forces him to take her along so that she can return to her University of Texas professor of a father.  The little road trip will turn out to be a defining moment in the lives of Jason, Emily, and everyone close to them.

C.W. Smith’s characters, including the ones encountered by Emily and Jason on their way to Austin, are fully-fleshed and memorable.  Even though I came to dislike some of them intensely, I could always understand the deluded logic they used to justify their behavior – not that I came to like them any more for it.  It did take me a while to get into Smith’s rhythm but as the relationship between Emily and Jason began to evolve I started to lose myself in the story.  Steplings is, in effect, a dual coming-of-age novel during which two very different young people help each other to grow up.  The 19-year-old high school dropout and the brilliant eleven-year-old little girl make a formidable team.  In the process of making their way to Austin, they learn a lot about each other, themselves, and life.  They grow up – despite the clumsiness of their parents.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)




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