Now free from the "rehabilitative" confines of Camp Green Lake, Theodore Johnson (a.k.a. Armpit) has set himself five plausible goals: 1. Graduate from high school. 2. Get a job. 3. Save money. 4. Avoid situations that might become violent. 5. Lose the nickname. Unfortunately for the hero of Holes, things are never quite that simple. In Small Steps, "Armpit" blunders into a major scam and an equally major celebrity hook-up. A nice follow-up to Louis Sachar's Newbery Awardwinning novel.
Though Sachar's companion to Holes isn't as intricately crafted as that Newbery winner, McClarin's multi-layered reading helps the author's words shine on this audiobook that improves upon the print reading experience. The accomplished actor brings to his characterizations a sassy energy and verisimilitude that injects Sachar's dialogue and descriptions with some memorable zing. The story picks up with 16-year-old Armpit, one of the kids who served time at juvenile detention center Camp Greenlake with Stanley Yelnats, two years after their release. Armpit has been taking the titular small steps to a respectable life-holding down a landscaping job, finishing school, being a protective best friend to a young neighbor with cerebral palsy. But when X-Ray, a fellow Camp Green Lake detainee, comes up with a risky get-rich-quick ticket-scalping scheme, Armpit temporarily gets lured into taking a few steps backward. A contrived twist of plot has him appropriately righted again, saving the day (and a teen pop star). Listeners will no doubt compare this to its quirkier, more dream-like predecessor, but will be entertained by McClarin's vibrant work on this detour from Green Lake. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
With this book, author Louis Sachar brings back the character Theodore Johnson, a.k.a. Armpit, from his Newbery Award-winning book, Holes. Armpit, an African-American teen, is working hard to rebuild his life after returning home from Camp Green Lake. That is hard to do when everyone knows about your criminal record, so Armpit takes small steps to stay in line and make good choices. While trying to finish high school, Armpit is hired by a landscaping company and works doing what he does best: digging holes. He also befriends Ginny, a young neighbor with cerebral palsy. Everything seems to be going well for Armpit until his old Camp Green Lake pal, X-Ray, visits him. X-Ray gets Armpit involved in a get-rich-quick scheme, scalping concert tickets to see the latest teen pop sensation, Kaira DeLeon. But is Armpit ready to throw away everything he's worked so hard for? Sachar combines a suspenseful plot with likeable characters to tell this story of friendship and of taking "small steps" to accomplish one's goals.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2006: Sachar’s Holes won the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal, among other honors, and YAs, teachers and librarians will be eager for this new novel, which features the character Armpit from Holes. Back home in Austin, TX, two years after his release from Camp Green Lake, Armpit is trying to take “small steps” to get his life back on track, though the only person who seems to believe in him is his 10-year-old neighbor Ginny, who has cerebral palsy. His old friend X-Ray, from Camp Green Lake, involves Armpit in a ticket-scalping scheme, which inadvertently introduces Armpit to the lonely young pop singer Kaira. The encounter changes both their lives, though the course of their relationship is anything but smooth--for one thing, Kaira’s been receiving death threats. Along the way, Sachar makes some poignant points about racial relations (both Armpit and Kaira are African American), the perils of fame, and the importance of taking the right steps, no matter how small they are. This novel can stand on its own, for those who somehow missed Holes; it’s an affecting story, with humorous moments, suspense, and romance, too, and readers will root for the long-suffering Armpit to triumph at last. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
Theodore Johnson, aka Armpit to his friends, is an honest, goodhearted, young man whose luck has usually been bad-so bad, in fact, as to land him in Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center, for an altercation that was not his fault. After his release from Camp Green Lake, readers find Armpit back home with his family, doing everything he can to swing the balance of events in his life to the good side. He has a steady job as a landscaper, he is saving money, and he is staying out of trouble. It is a boring life, but it is trouble free, until his fellow Green Lake survivor, X-Ray, shows up. X-Ray has a get-rich-quick scheme for which he persuades Armpit to provide the capital. Against his better judgment, Armpit provides the money to buy a number of tickets for the upcoming Kaira DeLeon concert. DeLeon is a sort of BeyoncT Knowles/Britney Spears-type rock star, for whom Armpit has a secret crush. Ticket scalping thrusts Armpit into the middle of a criminal element and logic suggests that he will soon be incarcerated again. But fate plays fair with Armpit this time around, and for every unfortunate action there is an equal and opposite fortunate reaction-and a little romance along the way. Sachar's sequel to Holes (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998/VOYA December 1998) reads like a long short story that follows intense action over the course of a few days. Armpit is an endearing character, as is Ginny, the disabled ten-year-old next door whom he has befriended. Absence of sex and just a little violence make this book appropriate for most readers ages ten and up. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined asgrades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Delacorte, 272p., Ages 11 to 18.
This wonderful sequel to Holes begins two years after the closing of Camp Green Lake, as Armpit is trying to take "small steps" toward a new life: graduate from high school, get a job, save money, "avoid situations that might turn violent," and "lose the name Armpit." He is doing all right in his summer school classes, earning praise for his digging skills at a landscaping job, and befriending Ginny, a younger white girl who lives next door, disabled from cerebral palsy. But then his old buddy X-Ray shows up with a supposedly foolproof plan to become rich through scalping tickets for an upcoming concert of teen sensation Kaira DeLeon. All they have to is buy twelve tickets for $55 each and resell them for ten times that much. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, everything could go wrong. Armpit ends up involved in one way or another with a police investigation, a bittersweet first love, an embezzling scheme, a murder plotoh, and an effort to get Ginny's favorite stuffed animal, Coo, elected as ruler of the world. With impeccable pacing, hilarious humor, and surprising pathos, Sachar leaves readers rooting for Armpit's next small steps toward a brighter future. 2006, Delacorte, Ages 10 up.
Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-This sequel to Holes (Farrar, 1998) focuses on Armpit, an African-American former resident of Tent D at Camp Green Lake. It's two years after his release, and the 16-year-old is still digging holes, although now getting paid for it, working for a landscaper in his hometown of Austin, TX. He's trying to turn his life around, knowing that everyone expects the worst of him and that he must take small steps to keep moving forward. When X-Ray, his friend and fellow former detainee at the juvenile detention center, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme involving scalping tickets to a concert by teenage pop star Kaira DeLeon, Armpit fronts X-Ray the money. He takes his best friend and neighbor, Ginny, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, to the concert and ends up meeting Kaira, getting romantically involved, and finally becoming a hero by saving her life when her stepfather tries to kill her and frame him. Small Steps has a completely different tone than Holes. It lacks the bizarre landscape, the magical realism, the tall-tale quality, and the heavy irony. Yet, there is still much humor, social commentary, and a great deal of poignancy. Armpit's relationship with Ginny, the first person to care for him, look up to him, and give his life meaning, is a compassionate one. Like Holes, Small Steps is a story of redemption, of the triumph of the human spirit, of self-sacrifice, and of doing the right thing. Sachar is a master storyteller who creates memorable characters.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
After a hiatus of some seven years, Sachar returns with a companion to Holes (1998) that places one of Stanley's fellow "campers" on center stage. Armpit is living with his parents in Austin, having set for himself five rehabilitative "small steps:" "1. Graduate from high school. 2. Get a job. 3. Save his money. 4. Avoid situations that may become violent. And 5. Lose the name Armpit." When fellow ex-camper X-Ray persuades him to join him in a scheme scalping tickets for a Kaira DeLeon concert, steps 1-4 are severely threatened-step 5 seeming to be permanently out of reach. Armpit is a genuinely sympathetic character, as is the teen singing phenom Kaira; the third-person narrative shifts focus from one to the other as their paths inexorably, and incredibly, draw closer and closer. If Holes invoked Vonnegut in its narrative complexity and deadpan delivery, this offering more closely resembles more straightforward crime fiction. Although readers may find themselves missing the tricky layers of its predecessor, any novel in which the good guys so righteously win should be happily welcomed in its own right. (Fiction. 12+)
From the Publisher
"Louis Sachar is magic to the toughest circle of critics: librarians, children’s booksellers, teachers – and, most of all, kids."
"Sachar’s touch is as deft as ever and the book is a page-turner."
"Mr. Sachar's gentle but surefire approach nails down challenging issues such as racism, teen romance and drugs."
–Dallas Morning News
"Sachar has a talent for creating realistic relationships between unlikely friends. Although that's a staple device of children's literature, it often works by drawing on clichés. Sachar's characters, though, are never stereotypes, but always vividly alive."
–Los Angeles Times
"His prose is clear and relaxed, and funny in a low-key, observant way."
–New York Times
"Part of what makes Small Steps so believable and appealing is that its characters do have insecurities, and they aren’t ashamed to let them show."
"Sachar is a master storyteller who creates memorable characters."
–School Library Journal
"Cleverly wrought…heartwarming, witty and suspenseful."
–Time Out New York Kids
Praise for Louis Sachar’s Holes:
"A dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism."
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A brilliant achievement."
–School Library Journal
"A smart jigsaw puzzle of a novel."
–The New York Times
"Imaginative plotting and memorable characters make this novel a winner."
Read an Excerpt
A rusted Honda Civic drove noisily down the street and parked across from the mayor’s house. Armpit had finished digging his trench and was attaching PVC pipe. The mayor had gone back inside.
The driver-side door had been bashed in, and it would have cost more to fix than the car was worth. The driver had to work his way over the stick shift and then exit on the passenger side.
The personalized license plate read: X RAY.
“Armpit!” X-Ray shouted as he crossed the street. “Armpit!”
The guys at work didn’t know him by that name, but if he didn’t say something X-Ray would just keep on shouting. Better to answer and shut him up.
“Hey,” he called back.
“Man, you’re really sweating,” X-Ray said as he came near.
“Yeah, well, you’d sweat too if you were digging.”
“I’ve already dug enough dirt to last one lifetime,” said X-Ray.
They had met each other at Camp Green Lake.
“Look, don’t call me Armpit around other people, all right?” Armpit said.
“But that’s your name, dawg. You should never be ashamed of who you are.”
X-Ray had the kind of smile that kept you from hating him no matter how annoying he was. He was skinny and wore glasses, which were now covered with clip-on shades.
He picked up Armpit’s shovel. “Different shape.”
“Yeah, it’s for digging trenches, not holes.”
X-Ray studied it awhile. “Seems like it would be harder to dig with. No leverage.” He let it drop. “So you must be making a ton of money.”
Armpit shrugged. “I’m doing all right.”
“A ton of money,” X-Ray repeated.
Armpit felt uncomfortable talking about money with X-Ray.
“So really, how much you got saved up so far?”
“I don’t know. Not that much.”
He knew exactly how much he had. Eight hundred and fifty-seven dollars. He hoped to break a thousand with his next paycheck.
“Got to be at least a thousand,” said X-Ray. “You’ve been working for three months.”
Besides working, Armpit was also taking two classes in summer school. He had to make up for all the schooling he’d missed while at Green Lake.
“And they take out for taxes and stuff, so really I don’t take home all that much.”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“The reason I’m asking,” X-Ray said, “the reason I’m asking is I got a business proposition for you. How would you like to double your money in less than two weeks?”
Armpit smiled as he shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“I just need six hundred dollars. Double your money, guaranteed. And I won’t be taking out any taxes.”
“Look, things are going all right for me right now, and I just want to keep it all cool.”
“Don’t you even want to hear me out?”
“It’s not against the law,” X-Ray assured him. “I checked.”
“Yeah, you didn’t think selling little bags of parsley for fifty dollars an ounce was against the law either.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault what people think they’re buying. How is that my fault? Am I supposed to be a mind reader?”
X-Ray had been sent to Camp Green Lake for selling bags of dried parsley and oregano to customers who thought they were buying marijuana. That was also why his family had to move from Lubbock to Austin shortly after he was released.
“Look, I just don’t want to do anything that might screw things up,” Armpit said.
“That’s what you think? That I came here to screw things up? Man, I’m offering you an opportunity. An opportunity. If the Wright brothers came to you, you would have told them it’s impossible to fly.”
“The Wright brothers?” asked Armpit. “What century are you living in?”
“I just don’t get it,” said X-Ray. “I don’t get it. I offer my best friend an opportunity to double his money, and he won’t even listen to my idea.”
“All right, tell me your idea.”
“Forget it. If you’re not interested I’ll find somebody else.”
“Tell me your idea.” He actually was beginning to get just a little bit curious.
“What’s the point?” asked X-Ray. “If you’re not going to even listen . . .”
“All right, I’m listening,” said Armpit.
X-Ray smiled. “Just two words.” He paused for effect. “Kaira DeLeon.”
It was eleven-thirty in Austin, but it was an hour later in Atlanta, where Kaira DeLeon, a seventeen-year-old African American girl, was just waking up. Her face pressed against Pillow, which was, in fact, a pillow. There wasn’t much oomph left in the stuffing, and the edges were frayed. The picture of the bear with a balloon, which had once been brightly colored, had faded so much it was hardly visible.
Kaira groggily climbed out of bed. She wore boxer shorts and was unbuttoning her pajama top as she made her way to what she thought was the bathroom. She opened the door, then shrieked. A thirty-year-old white guy, sitting on a couch, stared back at her. She clutched the two halves of her pajama top together and slammed the door.
The door bounced back open.
“Doofus!” Kaira shouted at the man, then closed the door again, making sure it latched this time. “Can’t a person have some privacy around here!” she screamed, then made her way to the bathroom, which was on the opposite side of her bed.
Over the last three and a half weeks she’d been in nineteen different hotel suites, each with no fewer than three rooms, and one with six. So really, it was no wonder she went through the wrong door. She didn’t even remember what city she was in.
She suspected that Polly, her psychiatrist, would tell her she had done that on purpose; something about wanting to show her body to her bodyguard. Maybe she was better off not telling Polly about it. Everything she said in her therapy sessions was supposed to be confidential, but Kaira suspected that Polly, like a parrot, repeated everything to El Genius.
She had no privacy–not in her hotel room, not even in her own thoughts.
The problem was that, except for Polly, there wasn’t anybody on the tour she could talk to. Certainly not her mother. And not her doofus bodyguard. The guys in her band were all at least forty years old, and treated her like she was a snot-nosed little kid. The backup singers were in their late twenties, but they seemed to resent her being the center of attention.
The only time she felt at peace was when she was singing. Then it was just her and the song and everybody else just disappeared.
Her concert tour would take her to a total of fifty-four cities, so she wasn’t even half done yet. She was now on the southern swing. From Atlanta they’d be going to Jacksonville, then Miami, Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock, and Baton Rouge, and on to Texas: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Originally the tour was supposed to include San Antonio instead of Austin, but that was changed at the last minute due to a monster truck rally at the Alamodome–not that Kaira cared, or even knew about the change.
Other people took care of things like that. Other people took care of everything. Kaira had accidentally left Pillow behind in New Haven, and Aileen, the tour’s travel coordinator, took a flight back to Connecticut and personally searched the hotel laundry until she found it.
_ _ _
Kaira emerged from the bathroom thirty minutes later wearing a hotel robe. She called room service and ordered a glass of orange juice, pancakes, a cappuccino, and French fries. It would have to last her until the concert. If she tried to eat before the concert she’d puke. After a concert she usually had a bowl of ice cream.
She got dressed, then stepped back out to the sitting area. Fred, her doofus bodyguard, was still there, going through her mail.
“As soon as I turn eighteen, you’re going to be the second person I fire.”
Fred didn’t even look up. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.
The television was on CNN. Kaira changed the station to the Cartoon Network.
The first person she’d fire would be El Genius. He was her business manager and agent, and also happened to be married to her mother. They had gotten married shortly before the tour. His real name was Jerome Paisley, but he actually wanted people to call him El Genius. No matter how hard Kaira tried to sound sarcastic when she used that name, he always took it as a compliment.
Her father had been killed in Iraq. His name was John Spears. Kaira’s real name was Kathy Spears, but there was already a famous singer with that last name.
El Genius had come up with the name Kaira DeLeon.
“You mean like Ponce de León?” Kaira had asked him.
Kaira explained to the genius who Ponce de León was, which was why her first CD was titled The Fountain of Youth El Genius thought it looked classy for DeLeon to be spelled as one word, with a capital letter in the middle.
Kaira had learned all about Ponce de León when she was in fourth grade and living at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. She had to learn the history of Florida. By year’s end she was living at Fort Myer, where they’d been studying the history of Virginia all year. She had never spent an entire school year in the same place.
“So, anything from Billy Boy?” she asked Fred.
Fred shook his head.
“Aw, too bad,” Kaira said. “He writes such charming letters.”
“It’s not funny,” said Fred.
“I think it’s hilarious,” said Kaira. She sang, “Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
Billy Boy had sent her four letters so far. He told her he thought she was lovely, she sang like a bird, and someday he would kill her.
El Genius hired Fred after the first letter. Kaira wouldn’t have been surprised if El Genius had actually written the letters, to scare her into staying confined to her hotel room. He was such a control freak. She was sure Fred told him everything she did.
“You got another marriage proposal,” Fred said.
“White or black?”
A photograph had been sent with he letter. Fred looked at it. “White,” he said.
“What is it with you guys?” asked Kaira.
It was her seventh proposal, and every one had been from a white man.
Fred carefully put the letter and the photograph in a plastic bag.
“What are you doing that for?”
“He said he wanted to marry me, not kill me,” Kaira pointed out.
“For some people, it’s the same thing,” said Fred.
Kaira glanced at him, surprised. The Doofus had actually said something kind of profound.
“Let me see what he looks like?”
Fred handed her the plastic bag.
Kaira laughed when she saw the picture. “He looks like you!” The photograph was that of a very muscular man wearing no shirt. The only difference between him and Fred was that his hair was long and wavy, while Fred had a buzz cut.
“You ought to grow your hair out,” Kaira told him as she handed the plastic bag back to him.
Seven marriage proposals, and she’d never had a boyfriend.
From the Hardcover edition.