"Children's book" always sounds so dismissive to me as a description. It's a rather patronising phrase often used to suggest that things are only worth reading for those of a juvenile turn of mind. Whilst this might be true of many such books, there are those that transcend age barriers and appeal to readers of all ages. The Harry Potter and Roald Dahl books are an example of these. You can add Louis Sachar to that list.
Sachar wrote the brilliant Holes, a "children's book" that deservedly broke free of its label and was widely enjoyed. Small Steps is the sequel and allows us to catch up with what has happened to Armpit and X-Ray since they escaped from the horrors of the Camp Green Lake detention centre.
In many ways, the answer is not much. Armpit is trying to earn an honest living as a gardener and trying to leave his past behind him. Best friend X-Ray is still living on his wits and seeks to draw Armpit into his latest scam - as a ticket tout selling tickets for a concert by a popular singer.
Sachar has the rare ability to take a very simple story and keep the reader absolutely hooked. If truth be told, not a lot actually happens in Small Steps and it often takes a long time to do it. There really is not much more to the book than given in that simple plot outline below. Yet this doesn't matter because Sachar has a masterstroke up his sleeve: Armpit and X-Ray are a couple of superb characters.
Sachar invests his constructs with such a vivid sense of personality that it's hard not to believe that they actually exist. They are fun to be with and the banter between them is excellent. Both are, in their own ways, trying to escape from their tragic pasts and have found in each other a kindred spirit. They might become exasperated with each other and see the world very, very differently, but at the same time, they have a profound understanding of how the other thinks and feels because they have gone through exactly the same experiences.
The author also invests the book with such a deep sense of humanity that makes it highly engaging. He steers well clear of usual stereotypes, but shows how these can be used to pigeon hole people. Armpit, for example, is black and (through no real fault of his own) has a criminal record. He is therefore viewed with suspicion and seen as someone who cannot be trusted. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth: Armpit is one of the sweetest, most likeable characters around; shy, sensitive and caring - his wonderful relationship with his cerebral palsy suffering neighbour Ginny is heart-warming and re-affirms your faith in human nature.
The real strength of the book though lies in the writing. Small Steps is by turns funny, clever, life-affirming, touching, heart-warming and slightly tragic. It's one of those books that takes you through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, yet you never feel like you are being manipulated; the emotional twists and turns are so well-written that they feel natural. Never once do you stop and think "no-one would behave like that", and even when the book takes some slightly unlikely turns you accept them because you trust the author knows what he is doing.
The plot is perhaps the one area where Small Steps betrays its origins as a "children's book" since it is kept simple and plot developments are not difficult to spot. This doesn't matter because of all the other strengths the book displays. I found myself unable to put it down and read through the whole thing in less than two days. I read a lot and it was, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a long, long time. Small Steps is one of those works that reminds you why you fell in love with reading in the first place.
True, the book is not quite as good as Holes, which probably had a stronger plot and a greater sense of danger and mystery, but it's still a fantastic read. Better still, it can be read as a standalone novel. Sure, if you've read Holes, you will understand and appreciate the characters' background a little more; but if you've not, you'll still be appreciate the excellent storytelling and writing that has gone into this sequel.
Small Steps might be lazily labelled as a "children's book" but that really shouldn't put anyone off reading it. It's not normally my type of book and I only bought it because a) I suddenly realised it was the sequel to Holes and b) it came up on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal for 99p. Otherwise I probably would never have bought it and that would have been a real shame.
The book is available for around £4.50 in either the print or the Kindle version. Quite how an electronic copy can be as expensive as a physical product I don't know, but there we go...
Bloomsbury, new edition, 2007
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
This is the sequel to Louis Sachar's amazing story Holes. Well kind of. It follows one of the characters (Not the main character of Holes, Stanley Yelnats) after he leaves Camp Greenlake (A camp where 'bad boys' are sent) and goes about rebuilding his life. Sounds good? Hmmmm.
It is probably important to point out that I am an adult and this is a children's book so this book isn't really aimed at me but I was incredibly disappointed with this book. I loved Holes which had a clever, original story and a wonderful 'Ooohhh!!!!' moment at the end. This story sadly lacks everything that Holes has and I felt a bit cheated.
This story is more of a girly, early teen, love-story which would become a very good Nickelodeon TV series and has a kind of Hannah Montanna feel to it but has very little connection to 'Holes'. It is a very good book for young teenage girls who will love this but it isn't really one for adults or boys to enjoy.
Without giving too much away fairly poor teenage boy trying to make a living for himself, working hard ends up meeting a famous, teenage singer who rather likes him even though she is rich and famous and he isn't.
The story is well written and I know of some girls who have read it and loved it but if you are looking for another Holes, you'll have to look elsewhere.