We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


A Novel

CW Smith

Publication Year: 2012

Nineteen-year-old Jason is lost. The rush of graduation parties has subsided, the ubiquitous discussion of college departures dimmed to a dull roar. His former classmates have made elaborate plans, but the only date on Jason’s calendar is a court appearance next Monday. Jason, who dropped out of high school just two months shy of graduation, finds himself stuck in the well-worn grooves of his hometown. But when his over-achieving girlfriend Lisa departs for UT Austin to study medicine, Jason finds Mesquite a place he can hardly recognize.  

Jason’s family can offer him little direction.  After his mother Sue’s unexpected death a few years back, his father Burl, fifteen years sober, slipped into old drinking habits. Jason watched the once clockwork-perfect routine of his family life descend into chaos. When Burl marries Lily, a high-strung, high-powered attorney, she brings a daughter into the house: Emily, eleven years old and a self-described know-it-all whose very existence is enough to irritate Jason.

Three days before Jason must appear in court, he receives a “Dear John” letter from Lisa. Heartbroken and determined to convince Lisa of his worth, Jason decides to hitchhike to Lisa’s dorm in Austin—but Emily, desperate to return to her father, a UT professor, overhears Jason’s plans and demands to accompany him. When Burl and Lily return home to find their children missing, Lily puts out an Amber Alert for Emily, accusing Jason of abducting her daughter. The frantic search effort that ensues threatens to destroy the tentative household that Burl and Lily have just begun to establish.

Smith’s gift for creating three-dimensional characters, abundantly demonstrated in his previous TCU Press titles including Understanding Women and Purple Hearts, lends this coming-of-age tale an unexpected quality of honesty and sophisticated narrative rarely seen in contemporary young adult fiction. Mary Powell, author of the TCU Press books Auslander and Galveston Rose, describes Smith’s prose as “rich and sophisticated, yet accessible, and the dialogue is right on.”  Steplings doesn’t romanticize the misadventures of its protagonists. Though Jason and Emily grapple with universal teen issues—Emily searches for acceptance in her new middle school, while Jason balks when confronted with new adult responsibilities—their troubles feel like uncharted territory when expressed through pitch-perfect narrative voices. “Watching Jason self-destruct,” according to Powell, “is akin to watching someone in a horror film go down into the basement.”

The authentic quality of Smith’s prose extends to the Texas setting; readers will recognize their neighbors in the characters that populate Mesquite and Austin. Kate Lehrer observed that Smith also “draws subtle distinctions among social classes.” Smith invokes tension between Jason’s no-frills lifestyle and Lisa’s country-club upbringing, and paints a widening gulf between Burl’s small-town mannerisms and Lily’s cosmopolitan tastes.  

Powell called Steplings “a friendly, hopeful, humorous, and thoughtful book about growing up.” Growing up, however, doesn’t belong exclusively to the young, and Steplings is a story that can’t be shelved neatly in the young adult category. Both teen and adult readers will see themselves in this multifaceted narrative of self-discovery.



Published by: TCU Press

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (86.1 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.1 KB)

read more

Chapter 1

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.4 MB)
pp. 1-31

It would seem a wholesome American scene, an updated Rockwell portrait. Here, on a September afternoon in 2003, a young man—shirtless, tanned torso, blond ponytail, cut-off jean shorts—was mowing the lawn of a modest ranch-style home in a Dallas suburb thirty years past its prime. ...

read more

Chapter 2

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 32-46

At the FirstCare Med-Stop on Town East, Burl and Lily took plastic scoop chairs and waited for a doctor to examine Burl's cut. Lily was restless, agitated, and after scouring the waiting room for magazines and finding only promotional brochures from pharmaceutical firms, she retrieved her briefcase from the car ...

read more

Chapter 3

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 47-60

Jason knew to stay off the interstates, so they hiked over to Pioneer, where an elderly Asian couple in an old Lincoln Town Car with duct tape on the leather seats took them all the way to C.F. Hawn Freeway. There they thumbed in unison from the shoulder because the signs up and down Highway 175 ...

read more

Chapter 4

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.3 MB)
pp. 61-76

Having obviously lost the argument when the kids hadn't come home, he was forced to concede to Lily's plan. But holding a press conference in his living room at dawn? Wouldn't happen. Amber Alerts were for when somebody sees a guy wrestle a screaming kid into a car and speed off, ...

read more

Chapter 5

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.7 MB)
pp. 77-109

Jason and Emily sat on trash bags plump with crushed aluminum cans. The man behind the wheel—"My name is Jacob"—had driven from Chicago where he lived and had picked up his passenger—"I am his cousin, Emmanuel"—in Dallas. Jacob left Chicago "it would be three days now," he said in a sing-song foreign to Jason's ears. ...

read more

Chapter 6

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 110-119

Burl had actually parked in the Albertsons lot before recalling that the trip to the store for coffee was only an excuse to get away from the house, and he couldn't summon the energy to troll the aisles. He couldn't recall feeling so tired, so jangled, jittery, woozy-headed. It must have been years since he'd had an all-nighter like that. ...

read more

Chapter 7

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 120-134

Smoke woke him. Emmanuel had built a fire in a stone circle and had set a blackened grill across it. He stood over the fire, squinting with his head craned to the side to avoid the smoke while he positioned a skillet over the coals. From a small blue cooler he plucked plastic bags and set them on the picnic table. ...

read more

Chapter 8

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.6 MB)
pp. 135-153

In Corsicana, at the interchange with 1-45, Jason insisted on buying ten dollars worth of gas, and while he was inside the Shell Mini Mart he perused a map and decided that they could go south with the Africans toward Houston on 1-45 to Buffalo, then hitch west to Round Rock. ...

read more

Chapter 9

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 154-165

Lisa waited in the water, bobbing on swells, the slalom ski floating and held lightly by her side between her thumb and fingers. In the distance above the glittering, sun-struck surface of Lake Travis, Chris brought the boat back around to pick her up. Water glistened on her eyelashes as her feet dangled in a stratum of cooler water; ...

read more

Chapter 10

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 166-176

He did Robert Earl Keen covers to warm up, then strummed a rough-hewn version of the Lisa song, working out the harmonic kinks, the lyrics, the rhymes, the rhythms, free to do anything since no one stopped to listen and the only audience he held for more than a few bars was Emily. ...

read more

Chapter 11

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 177-189

Burl was careful to arrive five minutes early for his 5:30 meeting with Lisa 's father. Since the doctor's clinic was closed Saturdays, the parking lot was empty but for a white Astro van with a magnetic sign reading Martinez Cleaning Service on its passenger door. ...

read more

Chapter 12

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 190-204

Emily had led Jason up several staircases and through a maze of rooms with shelved volumes, so that when they arrived at her secret spot, he had no idea what floor they were on and couldn't have found his way out of the building without asking for directions. ...

read more

Chapter 13

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.5 MB)
pp. 205-222

Paige drove Lisa back into town, and Jorge went a long for the ride. They tried to make her feel better by claiming that they wanted to swing by his place and pick up some CDs, anyway, that he'd forgotten to bring. ...

read more

Chapter 14

pdf iconDownload PDF (904.8 KB)
pp. 223-229

Guadalupe on an early Sunday morning had a holiday-calm, the air cool, the sun out but not yet baking the macadam, with early worshippers disappearing into the little Catholic church across from the campus for Mass. Jason and Emily strolled up and down the avenue looking for a working pay phone, ...

read more

Chapter 15

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.6 MB)
pp. 230-241

Lisa's pulse flickered as her heart thumped up a notch. "Isn't he here?" She looked off toward Guadalupe, where the Sunday morning traffic had picked up. Hadn't Emily walked to the dorm from that direction? She wished now that she'd told the police eleven and not eleven-thirty. ...

read more

Chapter 16

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 242-255

On Sunday morning Burl scoured the streets of downtown Austin, feeling hopeless in the face of nearly empty streets. Hopeless and useless, he didn't know what else to do but set himself onto the numbers grid, beginning of course with First Street and a ll the way up to Nineteenth or MLK just under the southern edge of the campus, ...

read more

Chapter 17

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.6 MB)
pp. 256-268

"Oooo!" She backed away from the threshold in mock alarm, raised her palms at him. Her t-shirt peaked slightly at her chest, its fabric bunched under the small bulge. An impulse arose to tease Emily, but Jason thought better of it. She looked years older, like an altogether different person, an almost-teen, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780875654911
E-ISBN-10: 0875654916
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875655086

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012