Small Steps Summary

Louis Sachar

Small Steps

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Small Steps Summary

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Small Steps is a 2006 young adult novel by American author Louis Sachar, a sequel to his Newbery Award-winning novel, Holes. Although the protagonist of Holes, Stanley Yelnats, does not star in Small Steps and is only briefly mentioned, Small Steps picks up shortly after the events of that book and focuses on the former supporting character of Theodore “Armpit” Johnson. Johnson, a former inmate at the corrupt juvenile prison of Camp Green Lake, is trying to make the most of his fresh start and stay out of trouble when he’s approached by a fellow former inmate, Rex “X-Ray” Washburn, who threatens to pull him back into the kind of trouble that landed him in Camp Green Lake in the first place. Much like Holes served as a satire of the US prison system and the juvenile justice system in particular, Small Steps turns that focus on the struggles that former prisoners face on the outside, and the factors that often lead them to return to prison. Although it did not receive the overwhelming acclaim of Holes, Small Steps received overall positive reviews and became a best-seller and mainstay of school libraries and book fairs.

As Small Steps begins, it’s been two years since Theodore “Armpit” Johnson was released from Camp Green Lake, and he’s living in Austin, Texas. He earns a living by digging holes – a skill he learned in Green Lake – and caring for his disabled neighbor Ginny McDonald, a ten-year-old with cerebral palsy. While working at the Mayor’s house, he’s met by Rex “X-Ray” Washburn, who tries to pull him into a ticket-scalping scheme for a concert by teen pop star Kaira Deleon. Armpit reluctantly agrees to lend X-Ray money, and at first it seems to be going well. Armpit asks X-Ray to give him the last two tickets so he can take Tatiana, a girl he has a crush on from summer school. Although X-Ray already has a buyer, he reluctantly agrees. When Tatiana decides against going to the concert with Armpit because she’s heard bad things about his past, he decides to take Ginny instead. However, at the concert, the tickets are discovered to be counterfeit. Armpit is beaten and arrested, and Ginny has a seizure from fright. The Mayor, who happens to be at the concert and recognizes Armpit, intervenes, and Kaira is horrified to see how two of her fans were treated. She invites them both backstage. After the concert, they join her for ice cream, and Armpit and Kaira become close. They meet up for breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel, and she tries to guess his nickname.

The next day, Armpit confronts X-Ray about the tickets, and X-Ray reveals he knew the tickets were fake. He sold the real ones to the buyer. He gives Armpit the extra money to make peace. A few days later, Armpit receives a love letter from Kaira. Later, he’s questioned by Detective Debbie Newberg of the police about the counterfeit tickets, and Armpit invents a fake culprit to keep attention away from him and X-Ray. He’s invited to San Francisco by Kaira, but he and X-Ray are confronted by ticket sellers Felix and Moses. They beat X-Ray and blackmail both of them by threatening to expose them to the police. They make Armpit give them Kaira’s letter.

After agreeing to do that, Armpit meets Kaira in San Francisco. He tries to explain the situation to her and that he has to sell her love letter. She thinks he’s only interested in her for her money. They have a big argument which ends with her throwing her coffee on him and stomping out. However, neither of them know Kaira has much bigger things to worry about. Her greedy manager and stepfather, Jerome “El Genius” Paisley, has been fuming because he knows Kaira plans to fire him when she turns eighteen in two months. He wants to kill her before that and take her money, and he sees Armpit as the perfect patsy to take the fall. He violently assaults Kaira with a bat that has Armpit’s fingerprints on it from when Jerome showed it to Armpit earlier. Although Kaira’s seriously hurt, Armpit and her bodyguard Fred are able to stop Jerome. The doctors aren’t sure Kaira will be able to sing again due to her injuries, and it turns out that her trust fund was raided by Aileen, a friend of her mother’s. Although Aileen is arrested, the money is never found and Kaira is left broke. Armpit heads home and is met by Detective Newberg, who reveals that she knows about his involvement in the ticket scheme, but won’t be pursuing charges. A while later, Armpit hears Kaira on the radio, singing again about her relationship with him. Although he’s touched, he knows his life can’t revolve around her. He’s dedicated to continuing with his plan of making a better life for himself, one small step at a time.

Louis Sachar writes children’s books, Holes, and the Wayside School series, which focuses on an offbeat elementary school set in a skyscraper. He is also the author of the eight-book Marvin Redpost series for young readers, and eight stand-alone books for children and middle-grade readers. Wayside School was spun off into a 2007 animated series, while Holes was adapted into a critically acclaimed 2003 film starring Shia LaBeouf.