Small Steps

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Small Steps Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Holes sequel delves into edgier territory.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 41 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This will appeal to fans of Holes -- it's fun to read and may get readers thinking about the book's bigger ideas.

Positive Messages

Armpit doesn't always make the right choices, but ultimately he has a good heart and figures things out in time to make a heroic move.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Armpit does go along with X-Ray to scalp tickets and lie to the police -- but he begins the book committed to rehabilitating himself. Readers will find it easy to root for him.


Fights, a stabbing, attempted murder with a baseball bat.


Several kisses. Armpit and Kaira strike up a romance. Kaira's bodyguard sees her with her top open, X-Ray hoots at a girl, who flips him off, Kaira tells an audience she's a virgin.


A few mild epithets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

X-Ray sells parsley as if it's marijuana, Armpit's parents believe he's using drugs and ask for urine samples, an ex-ball player used steroids, band members drink and smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a better choice for tweens and teens -- young kids who liked Holes may not be quite ready for the edgy material here.  There are references to sex and drugs, a bit of pretty nasty violence, and the hero is involved, mostly through stupidity, in some shady dealings. Armpit doesn't always make the right choices, but ultimately he has a good heart and figures things out in time to make a heroic move. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGoheather123 July 14, 2020

For a much more mature audience than “Holes”

Thankfully I am reading this out loud to my kids.... they are 7 and 9 and were huge fans of “Holes.” Being that this is the sequel, of course it’s going to appe... Continue reading
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bySmall Steps Finality April 29, 2010
In the end i do not think there is enough finality...I hate not knowing what the future holds for the characters. And for people who rate it aganst Holes that i... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLilpars December 31, 2019


This book is honestly better than the first one and it’s about armpit falling in love with a pop star. There is some violence at the end of the book, but it’s S... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 29, 2016

Holes Sequel

Young people who liked Holes won't be ready for Small Steps. Small Steps features sex, drama, language, and a murder attempt, as well as shady dealings, mo... Continue reading

What's the story?

At the end of Holes, Camp Green Lake had been shut down and the boys released. After spending time in a halfway house, Theodore (nicknamed Armpit) is working hard to get his life back on track. He has a job, is taking extra classes to graduate from high school, and is saving his money while trying to stay out of trouble. He has even befriended the young girl next door who has cerebral palsy. But then X-Ray shows up with a get-rich-quick scheme that involves scalping tickets to a concert by Kaira DeLeon, the latest teen pop sensation. From there the story gets complicated. Armpit meets Kaira and they strike up a tentative romance. X-Ray goes beyond scalping to counterfeiting, and both the police and rival scalpers come after both of them. And Kaira's manager/stepfather plans to murder her and pin it on Armpit.

Is it any good?

It's hard to believe that SMALL STEPS was written by the same author as Holes: This is more of a tangle of elements that resolves into an ill-fitting mess. Holes was a masterpiece of craftsmanship, a complex symphony of disparate thematic elements and vibrant characters woven together in intricate pattern that resolved perfectly.

Louis Sachar knows how to write a fun and enjoyable book. But Holes set the bar a lot higher, and for the sequel to that Newbery Medalist and National Book Award winner something more is expected -- a higher degree of craftsmanship, depth, sophistication, and emotional power, all of which are missing here. Fans of the first book will no doubt want to read it and may even enjoy it (though the romance section of the book appeals to an entirely different audience), but they won't find it as memorable or as powerful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sequels. What do you think compels authors to write them? Can a sequel ever live up to a book like Holes, which received so many positive reviews and awards?

  • This book has some edgy material, even though it is marketed for 10+. Common Sense Media gave it a 12+ rating, even though it marked Holes at 9+ -- what do you think? Parents may want to encourage kids to leave their own age recommendations (and overall opinion) by signing into the site and writing a short review.

Book details

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For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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