Small Steps by Louis Sachar
Digital Audiobook narrated by Curtis McClarin
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers Series: Holes #2
Genres: Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 272 pages or 5 hours, 14 minutes
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Two years after being released from Camp Green Lake, Armpit is home in Austin, Texas, trying to turn his life around. But it’s hard when you have a record, and everyone expects the worst from you. The only person who believes in him is Ginny, his 10-year old disabled neighbor. Together, they are learning to take small steps. And he seems to be on the right path, until X-Ray, a buddy from Camp Green Lake, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme. This leads to a chance encounter with teen pop sensation, Kaira DeLeon, and suddenly his life spins out of control, with only one thing for certain. He’ll never be the same again.
In his first major novel since Holes, critically acclaimed novelist Louis Sachar uses his signature wit combined with a unique blend of adventure and deeply felt characters to explore issues of race, the nature of celebrity, the invisible connections that determine a person’s life, and what it takes to stay on course. Doing the right thing is never a wrong choice – but a small step in the right direction.
In 2017, we all went head-over-heels for the Black Lives Matter rep in the (truly phenomenal) The Hate U Give… but did anyone know that this rep has been out there before? And, of all books, in the sequel to the iconic Holes?
I had no idea what to expect from Small Steps, knowing only that it was a sequel to one of the beloved books I read as a child, and that it would be following Armpit instead of Stanley Yelnats and Zero. I honestly barely read the summary – I was all in by the legacy. I love Holes and I think it’s a classic MG story and want everyone to read it just because it’s interesting and fun.
Small Steps shows Louis Sachar turning away from the parallel love story / male friendship story and to something very real and underrepresented back in 2006. We have Armpit facing the subtle effects of daily racism – everything from being attacked by security guards at a concert because of his size and race to people crossing the street to avoid him. We have Kaira DeLeon, a young singer who is pushed into fame and simultaneous forced into loneliness and responsibility that celebrity brings. Finally – and this is my favorite character hands down – there’s ten-year-old Ginny, Armpit’s neighbor and friend who lives with cerebral palsy.
Someone name me a book – especially a MG books – that confronts cerebral palsy. Not only is Ginny this strong, beautiful soul, but she embraces her disability* and isn’t ashamed of it. Annoyed by the way folks treat her sometimes, but never ashamed. Ginny is a gorgeous shining star, mes chers. Her CP is severe – affecting her ability to control her body in extreme ways, implementing her speech, and causing seizures. But Ginny carries on, acknowledges her strengths and weaknesses, and takes life by the horns.
*I’m choosing to use the word disability here because a.) Ginny uses it herself; and b.) this story on The Mighty from another young lady with CP. Please don’t take my word choice as deliberately offensive… I waffled a lot on how to word this.
The story itself… is okay. Mostly it revolves around X-Ray roping Armpit into this get-rich-quick scheme that goes terribly and horribly awry when X-Ray makes a business decision that leads to a really horrible/powerful scene at the concert venue. Ultimately, we get a lopsided love story, murder attempt, and two uneventful police investigations. So if I’m being honest, the story wasn’t that great.
It’s not the story that blew me away here. It was the characters, and the powerful themes.
Small Steps is worth reading for the way it makes you cringe when someone is watching Armpit and waiting for him to draw a knife, but he just takes out his wallet.
Small Steps is worth reading for Kaira’s frustration at being dogged everywhere she goes and being denied even one friend.
Small Steps is worth reading to hear Ginny proudly explain cerebral palsy to an ignorant person who ought to know better.
These three characters and the small steps they take to carve a better life for themselves are what makes this book for engrossing, and a great reminder of some of the problems America still faces today.