A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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.
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