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Small Steps by Louis Sachar
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The stories within were loopy and crazy, two aspects of stories that I'll always love, and they resonated with my 10-year old brain. Shoot, even today, I like that sort of thing! So, as I grew older, I kept my eye out for more books of his (the many sequels to the Wayside series, and There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom! among them). And then I picked up a book called Holes....
Louis Sachar made a big change in his style with Holes. What used to be light and loopy suddenly became dark and ponderous. There was still a sense of the strange attached to the story, but it took on a level of surrealism in the story, because the rest of the book was so real, and so heavy. It was a nice balance.
Small Steps is a pseudo-sequel to Holes, in that Armpit and X-Ray are the main characters, and in that Sploosh makes a few appearances. Other than that, though, this could have been a brand-new novel. The title of the book refers to something that Armpit's counselor tells him after returning from the Green Lake Juvenile Detention Center. She tells him that rehabilitation is like trying to walk upstream in a fast river; you have to take small steps. If you try to take too large a step, then you'll get swept off your feet and find yourself further downstream.
Armpit is making a concerted effort to change, and he's taken on a job and begun taking school more seriously. He has goals in mind, and he has money in the bank. In steps X-Ray, who has a great idea for a way to make money, and as much as Armpit doesn't want to get into it, he finds himself drawn into the scheme. Thus begins his too-large step.
One of the neat things about Sachar's writing is that you might find yourself in the middle of a dry passage, where it seems like he's telling more than he's showing. When he starts to do this, PAY ATTENTION! He's usually revealing something important about the theme, and about the story. In Holes, for example, when Stanley and Zero are on God's Thumb eating onions, Zero reveals something about his past that makes their lives reconnect, and Sachar writes, "Stanley peeled another layer from his onion."
Like Holes, Small Steps is a story of redemption and character. Unlike Holes, you'll find yourself wondering if the ending was as developed as it should have been. Some of the plot threads end abruptly, and others end in a way that simply don't make much sense. It's a good book (the ending almost made me cry, and that's quite a feat for a book), but not everything is as polished as I would have liked. So long as you're not looking for a sequel to Holes, though, I doubt you'll be disappointed.