You want proof that adolescent kids are smarter than adults? Just look at the books they read. Many are as complex and intricately plotted as anything adults read -- some even more so. Thatís certainly true of the Harry Potter series, with its dozens of characters and complicated storylines. And it was true of Louis Sacharís Holes, a fabulous jigsaw puzzle of a novel, full of small but important details and juggling multiple plot lines. The book was a pleasure for all ages, blending together all its parts into a satisfying whole.
So itís a little surprising that Small Steps, Sacharís follow-up to Holes, is a comparably straightforward, linearly plotted book. But itís almost as good. Steps picks up with two of the minor characters from Holes Ė the physically imposing Armpit and the motor-mouthed conman X-Ray.
Both are living in Texas after being sprung from the previous bookís menacing Camp Green Lake, where bad boys dig holes all day long. Armpit Ė who desperately and understandably wants to drop that handle Ė is still digging holes, this time for a landscaping business. He
is trying to get through high school and make something of himself. But he has a record, and his parents are skeptical that he
His one true friend is his neighbor, Ginny, a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Their relationship is an oasis for both of them Ė he doesnít treat her like someone with a disability, and she doesnít treat him like an ex-con.
Of course, Armpit isnít immune to trouble, and gets involved in a ticket-scalping business with X-Ray. The business venture leads to Armpit meeting teen pop sensation Kaira de Leon and getting involved in her equally complex life.
As in Holes, Sachar creates young adult characters who have real depth. They
are flawed, sensitive and deeply misunderstood. Most importantly, they
are not too sentimental. That is particularly obvious in the delicate relationship between Ginny and Armpit. Ginny could have been just a cute plot device, but Sachar makes her a real little girl, blessed with the kind of casual resilience that young kids often have.
Especially appealing is how Armpit views her as a peer, despite their age and race difference (she is white; he is black). He seeks her advice, tells her secrets, and values her opinion.
The character of Kaira takes a lot of the surface details of Britney Spears and her ilk and deepens them. Kaira isnít caricature but a complicated kid, like Armpit and Ginny.
The story doesnít have all the twists of Holes, but it is entertaining and holds together well. Sachar remains not just one of the best contemporary young adult writers, but one of the best contemporary writers in general. Funny, smart and sensitive, his books are always worth the journey, simple or complex.