Review: The Seven Steps to Closure, by Donna Joy Usher

I’ve read several books in the past twelve months that could fall under the banner of contemporary women’s fiction, and few have held my attention. While I enjoy the light-hearted tone of such books, I’m frustrated by the way they perpetuate the myth of happily ever after: a beautiful woman suffers much in her quest for love before ultimately winning over and marrying the man of her dreams.

On the surface, The Seven Steps to Closure is another light-hearted read, full of good Aussie fun and devoid of that clichéd rural setting that’s penetrating romance these days. (Don’t get me started on the worst book I read last year.) I read this book over three nights and many of those reading hours were spent laughing out loud as protagonist Tara got herself into embarrassing but alarmingly plausible — or worse, familiar! — situations.

But look beneath the light language and you’ll see author Donna Joy Usher delving into some heavy, heartfelt topics with honesty and sensitivity. As the story unfolds, Tara and her friends deal with overwhelming feelings, unrealistic expectations, self-image issues, gender stereotypes, and cultural ignorance. The one that hit me hardest was Usher’s authentic depiction of Tara’s abusive relationship with her ex-husband, Jake, and her struggle to move past it. Glimpses of Jake’s classic narcissistic personality are revealed as a subplot to both the novel and to Tara’s life: the way he swept her off her feet; the way he picked fights with her and then blamed her for them; the way she always defended his behaviour, even after his ultimate betrayal; the way it continues to affect her interactions with other men.

Yet, somehow, the author manages to usher (*cough*) readers through all this darkness in an uplifting way. Strong women are modelled in abundance. They have agency — they control and create their own lives. Their varied careers bring them joy. In their healthy but naturally flawed relationships with friends, family and lovers, they face challenges together and work towards mutual happiness. They acknowledge and communicate their emotions. They are both relatable and inspirational. I was left hoping Usher also writes books for YA audiences, and was delighted to discover she does. Add them to my reading list.

Is the book perfect? Nope. I’d love to remove a few elements of repetition or switch a word or two out for clarity. But few books are perfect these days, and the changes I’d make to The Seven Steps to Closure are tiny — insignificant when compared with the valuable cultural commentary this great read provides.


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