Steps Ordered by Merriel Chase

Steps Ordered

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An African-American woman heading to Howard University struggles in her relationships with men in this contemporary novel.

Columbia University student Jessica Euge is in the process of selecting a dental school. Determined to be financially independent, she is wary of men, given that her father physically assaulted her mother and sexually abused her and her sister before her parents divorced. Yet Jessica also enjoys losing her virginity to Eric Braswell, an Italian-American fellow student who takes her to the Rainbow Room in Manhattan on their first date. And her top dental school choice turns out to be Howard University in Washington, D.C., because she wants to “explore the male African American cream of the crop from the US and males from various countries.” During their early days of dating, Eric’s insecurities lead him to strike Jessica. He seeks out counseling, and urges Jessica to do the same, given her own apparent issues regarding confidence in her looks and, of course, in men. She stubbornly refuses, and the two break up. Jessica succeeds at Howard academically, but runs through a string of men. Eric soon gets trapped into a marriage with another woman due to her pregnancy, but he insists they call their child Jessica. By novel’s end, Jessica experiences financial and professional challenges upon graduation and a nervous breakdown that brings her under the care of a psychiatrist who finally gets her to look at her issues. Will she find a way to forgive her father—and reunite with Eric? Chase (Esmerelda, The Gifted, Volume 1, 2013) notes that her second novel is “based on true events,” and her narrative is indeed peppered with travelogue and documentary-like details (New York City restaurants, day trips from Washington, D.C., etc.). Unfortunately, this overload of real-life tidbits (do readers need a slice of history about the Watergate Hotel?) can distract from Chase’s intriguing core drama of slowly uncovering Jessica. The author effectively portrays the protagonist as rather robotic and schizophrenic (buying into religious views of premarital sex as a sin yet also actively pursuing it) in her intense acting out before finally facing her pain and denial.

A kitchen-sink depiction of a dental student’s psychological suppression.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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