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Small Steps    by Louis Sachar order for
Small Steps
by Louis Sachar
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Small Steps continues the story of one of the survivors of Holes' horrific Camp Green Lake Juvenile Correctional Facility. African American Theodore 'Armpit' Johnson is trying to get his life back together. He's back home in east Austin (where his parents view him with constant suspicion and demands for urine samples, despite the fact that his original arrest followed an altercation over spilled popcorn) and works for Raincreek Irrigation and Landscaping.

Warned that people will expect the worst from him, Armpit is determined to beat the odds. What helps is his friendship with ten-year-old Ginny McDonald next door. Ginny has cerebral palsy and is used to being called a retard, but she and Armpit hit it off - 'She didn't fear him, and he didn't pity her.' A counselor told Armpit he will have to take small steps, and he's shared that with Ginny - 'Together, they were learning to take small steps.' What doesn't help Armpit is his friendship with X-Ray, another Camp Green Lake grad. X-Ray shows up with a ticket scalping scheme that only requires Armpit's hard-earned savings to launch. The tickets are for a hugely popular concert by seventeen-year-old African American singer Kaira DeLeon (many of whose lyrics are sung through the book).

Kaira has her own problems, mainly the lack of control of her destiny. She goes everywhere with a huge entourage and a security man she names Doofus. Her dad died in Iraq. Her business manager and agent (now married to her mother) El Genius, (mis)handles her money, and has a thing going on the side with the tour's travel coordinator. Kaira has no friends, and regularly announces plans to fire El Genius when she turns eighteen. After Armpit takes Ginny to the concert and an X-Ray-engineered disaster strikes, Kaira is involved and gets to know and like the duo. But her friendship with Armpit becomes a catalyst for plans to take advantage of his criminal record, while fallout from the ticket scalping scheme complicates matters even more.

Louis Sachar delivers his usual crescendo of a conclusion, one that leaves Kaira having to take small steps too. Small Steps is just as good as Holes. It's a heartwarming, inspiring, feel good story that addresses both prejudice and what it's like to be a young celebrity, and maintains a light, humorous touch throughout. Small Steps has a very big heart.

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