It's no exaggeration to say that SMALL STEPS is one of the most eagerly awaited sequels in recent memory. It's taken Louis Sachar eight years to follow up his Newbery Award-winning novel HOLES, which was also made into a popular feature film. To call SMALL STEPS a sequel, though, is not entirely true; instead, the book is more of a companion to Sachar's earlier novel, following some of the same characters but written in a fundamentally different style.
Theodore "Armpit" Johnson is back in the real world after finally being released from Camp Green Lake, the horrific juvenile detention center that was the setting for HOLES. Living in Austin, Texas, Armpit is determined to finish school while using his shoveling skills in a good job for a landscaping firm. He's learning a lot, saving some money, and taking small steps toward becoming a respected member of society again.
Armpit's life is going pretty smoothly until X-Ray, another former Green Lake detainee, comes on the scene with a get-rich-quick scheme. Pop singer Kaira DeLeon is coming to town, and her show is sure to sell out. X-Ray's plan is to buy twelve tickets and resell them to the highest bidders. He needs Armpit's help (and his bank account) to buy the tickets, and he promises to share the wealth with Armpit.
Not surprisingly, the plan backfires on all cylinders, as Armpit learns lessons about economics, ethics and the law. About the only good thing that comes out of the plan is that Armpit and his young neighbor Ginny (who has cerebral palsy) actually get to meet Kaira DeLeon. Armpit and Kaira have instant chemistry --- Armpit is attracted to Kaira's beauty and intelligence, and Kaira is pleasantly surprised that Armpit likes her for herself. But will Kaira feel the same when she finds out about Armpit's ticket scalping fiasco?
Readers who are expecting SMALL STEPS to contain more of the story of Stanley Yelnats and Zero, the protagonists of HOLES, may be disappointed. Those who are anticipating the tall-tale, almost mythic quality of HOLES's storytelling may also take some time to adjust to the more straightforward, traditional storyline of SMALL STEPS.
Nevertheless, Sachar does manage to elicit sympathy and interest in two of HOLES's more minor characters with this follow-up tale. The story, particularly the doomed ticket-scalping plot, is also well constructed, even though the final violent scenes involving Kaira's unscrupulous manager/stepfather are somewhat over the top. Sachar does include plenty of humor and even some subtle commentary about race and class (both Armpit and Kaira are African American). In short, readers will enjoy SMALL STEPS if they are able to view it as a novel in its own right, and not as a repeat performance of Sachar's beloved HOLES.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 10, 2006
- Publication Date: January 8, 2008
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0385733151
- ISBN-13: 9780385733151