This novel is really five stories within a story that are induced by a story, like a nesting puzzle. So, we have six stories in the book. There may be a lack of a principal plot here but it is of no consequence as the novel's main purpose is to serve as a forum for six various stories of Richard Clayton Harwick, Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo.
In Step by Wicked Step, five boys and girls find themselves in an old house on a stormy night. In a hidden tower room they discover an old diary, that of Richard Clayton Harwick, who left behind a journal account of his wicked stepfather. 'Read and Weep' says the spidery writing on the cover of the book. After Richard Clayton Harwick's father passes away, he was sent to Mordanger School for four long years. He wishes to burn Mordanger to 'ashes' as to him, 'there's no meaner place on earth' than this boarding school. When he returns to Old Harwick Hall, he could not get along with his wicked and loveless stepfather, Reverend Coldstone. Being robbed of all his precious tokens from home, Richard makes the decision to leave and become a cabin boy on a great ship. His decision has caused anguish in his mother and sister, who have spent a fortune seeking his return. He did not return to see his mother or sister until he read a square print from Riddle & Flook which requested him to claim his ownership to Old Harwick Hall. By then, Richard knows that his stepfather, mother and sister have passed on. Only then, he realises his decision to leave has changed the lives of his family members.
Harwick's story prompts Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo to tell their own tales of stepfathers, stepmothers, and stepsiblings, who are in turn eccentric, beloved, unwelcome, and almost always misunderstood. Each vignette (descriptive passage within a larger work) is a wonderful study of human nature. As the lightning flashes, the children begin to relate their own tales of step parents, stories that are full of warmth and humour, yet with a fair share of sadness. At first it seems the children could have nothing in common. Sports-mad Robbo, quick-witted Ralph, sensible Claudia, fiery Pixie and dreamy Colin seem as different to each other as it is possible to be. Yet they soon find they have one thing in common, and that they are all the products of broken homes and they once have a turbulent relationship with a 'step-' or 'steps-'.
Credit: Fatimi Estar