*blah blah blah blah you already know what’s gonna happen* Spoiler Alert Seal *blah blah*.
There are two very prestigious book awards in America, let alone the globe. One of them is the Newbery Medal, successfully proposed as the first-ever book award in history. The Newbery is only given to books with “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. And this was probably the first award I ever heard of where the losers get awards too–they become Newbery Honor books. First awarded to Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind (1921), the Newbery has clearly been known as an author’s biggest bragging right of their career. But take it too far and you’ll end up playing yourself a mind game. And the 1999 Newbery winner, to be specific, was a book that I believe won as an underdog–Louis Sachar’s Holes. And for any of you who have read the book, you might have believed that the story of Camp Green Lake ended right then and there. Well, you are wrong.
“Small steps, ’cause I don’t know where I’m goin’. Small steps, I just take it day to day. Small steps, somehow get myself together, then maybe I’ll discover who I am along the way…“
Considered the sequel/follow-up to Holes (remember America, Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide was not a main entry–I’m not sure if you can even count it), Small Steps was released in January 2006 and continues the story of the [not-so] happy campers from Camp Green Lake. But this time, the story doesn’t revolve around Stanley–it revolves around two of his comrades. More specifically, Armpit and X-Ray. If you want to know how they got the names, here’s the story: Armpit’s actual name is Theodore, but something horrible happened within the first week at Green Lake. He had suffered a scorpion sting with pain that traveled up his arm and settled in his pit. He made the fatal mistake of complaining about his pit pain, and although the pain eventually disappeared the name stuck. And as for X-Ray–it’s merely his name, Rex, in pig Latin. Now, Armpit was released from camp two years ago, and has finally gotten the time to relax in his home down south in Texas with his disabled 10-year old neighbor Ginny. Y’see, Ginny was born with cerebral palsy. It’s a condition from impaired muscle coordination or equally worrisome disabilities caused by pre-birth/at-birth brain damage. She was actually born with mild brain hemorrhaging. Anyway, Armpit and Ginny are learning to take small steps, and seem to be on the right path until X-Ray steps into the picture. And not only that, but he’s got a fresh-and-off-the-griddle moneymaking scheme. The plan? Ticket scalping for an upcoming concert by pop star Kaira DeLeon. (Don’t Google her, she’s not real. ) Also known as selling counterfeit or bootlegged tickets, which is illegal. So now Armpit’s life has just gone out of control, but “only one thing is certain: he’ll never be the same again.” Will Armpit get a brush with his goals, a brush with fame via Kaira, or get a brush with a lot of police brutality–and possibly even death?
Now, Small Steps really surprised me. It was a lot raunchier and mature than your average sequel, definitely invading edgier territories. And I really couldn’t keep track of everything that was happening, forgetting who people are, even blanking out on whole scenarios. But the thing that convinced me that I did myself a good deed was the heart that the book had. It had lots of positive messages and modeling, and to me it had those debonair touches that made for a truly magical read. But I do have to warn you that this book literally is not for the faint of heart; I’m not just saying that because I just reviewed an equally wild book two weeks ago. But in the end, Small Steps wins me over with its hilarity, heart, and horrors, but could adjust a few corks and screws if I ever see another Holes sequel.
4 1/4 out of 5 – Educational value – The book is mainly prosperous on its entertainment factor, but Holes fans will definitely appeal to this sequel and get them thinking about the book’s bigger proposals. And at the end of the book, the storyline is stretched in the Readers Circle add-ons. Questions concerning the book’s plot element, even an interview with Sachar himself.
3 out of 5 – Positive messages – Armpit may not be a choice perfectionist, but ultimately he has the heart to figure things out in time to act on it. The core plot is also very touching with its idea of “small steps” that you can take every day and eventually meet your goal with. X-Ray may technically serve as the antagonist of the book, but he is helpful for his friend as well.
4 out of 5 – Positive role models – Armpit does go with X-Ray’s plan to scalp tickets and then lie to the cops, but he spends most of the following actions allowing himself to rehabilitate, allowing readers to easily root for him. In the end X-Ray does truly regret his plan. Armpit helping Ginny, even taking her leukemia-infected pet to class (as part of an election campaign for some sort of “pet president”) for her, is probably one of the most affectionate and compassionate parts of the book. Armpit shares something short of a relationship with Kaira, but ultimately decides to drop the idea of any further affection due to his connection with his real life.
3 out of 5 – Ease of read – Small Steps is a great Holes sequel, but its sex appeal and moderate violence may be too much for its young diehards to handle. But its real icky, sticky, ooey, gooey center is its big heart and all the positive messages and models that make it up. So I guess you could say people at the faint of heart will have to take “small steps” to gain the courage to read the book.
4 out of 5 – Violence – And a surprising amount at that. One of the most worrisome moments of the book is when Armpit is apprehended by some officers at the Kaira DeLeon concert, playing with the nerves of his arms and pressing his face against the floor. And while all this is happening, Ginny is actually having a seizure. (She later notes this as her body going into “red alert”, based off Kaira’s biggest hit, “Red Alert!”) When Kaira learns about this during a concert break, she refers to X-Ray as “some low-life ticket scalper”. When anyone actually ridicules Ginny for her condition, she always tells them that she had brain hemorrhaging at birth. Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you that Ginny’s the neighborhood laughingstock yet, did I? X-Ray reveals to Armpit that he had made the scalped counterfeit tickets himself. Armpit is
interrogated questioned by Debbie Newberg of the Austin Police Department, forcing him to divert suspicion by making up a fake “part-Iranian” suspect known as Habib. When a student puts up his pig as part of his election campaign, he states that it would bring world peace or else at least everyone would get a ham sandwich, foreshadowing that the pig would kill himself for his people. Armpit also gets in a scuffle with a pair of ticket sellers, only letting him loose if he coughed up a love letter Kaira had written him. This leads to Armpit talking with Kaira in “the Golden Gate city” about having to sell her love letter, so he ends up coffee-splashed when he asks Kaira to write another version for sale. This states that Kaira believes Armpit does not humanly care about her and only likes her for her money. Jerome Paisley (aka “El Genius”, or “Doofus” by Kaira) plans to murder her own stepdaughter/managee and frame Armpit for the kill. This leads to a climactic brawl which results in Armpit receiving a broken arm, Kaira’s bodyguard Fred receiving a tummy stab, and “Genius” behind bars. Kaira then returns to her singing career, albeit she sings very weakly now after taking a hit from Doofus.
3 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Walking towards what she believes is the bathroom, she gets caught by Doofus with her top unbuttoned and open. Armpit and Kaira share a real mouth-to-mouth kiss. X-Ray hoots at a girl wearing a bikini top. At Kaira’s concert, she informs her audience about her virginity. Needless to say, the crowd goes wild. Ginny calls Armpit “pretty pretty”, which is humorous since Ginny is technically calling Pit a girl, since “girls are pretty and boys are handsome”.
2 out of 5 - Language – The moderately salty epithets and expletives of “hell”, “damn”, and “shut up”. When X-Ray hoots at the girl, she responds wordlessly by promptly flipping him off. The “bird” is also mentioned when Kaira tries to guess Armpit’s nickname, and she guesses Finger and believes that he is the middle finger. During a call Kaira jokingly calls Armpit “delusional” over what he thought the lyrics to “Damsel in Distress” went like: “Save me, Armpit! A damsel in distress.”
2 out of 5 – Product Placement – Kaira DeLeon, despite being fictitious, does get a lot of notable mentioning in the book. Some of her songs include “Red Alert!”, “Damsel in Distress”, “Imperfection”, “Small Steps”, and one unofficial song she frequently sings called “Billy Boy” (named after one of her fans). She also works on a song and sings lyrics that call Britney Spears “old and gray”. Small Steps also branches out from the hit novel Holes.
3 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – X-Ray sells parsley like marijuana, Armpit’s parents ask for urine samples believing their son is using drugs, an ex-ball player associated with Kaira takes steroids, band members drink and smoke frequently. Armpit is mainly attacked at the concert since the officers thought that Ginny was having a seizure due to being drugged up by Pit.
Entertainment: A (4 points)
Fun: A (4 points)
Smarts: B+ (3.5 points)
Style: A- (4 points)
Read-Again Ratio: A (4 points)
Humor: A+ (5 points)
FINAL SCORE: 24.5 out of 30 (:-?), 4 stars out of 5, 83% out of 100%
CONSENSUS: Small Steps may have lots of heart and the messages and models that make it up, and the humor and charm you’d expect from Sachar or a similar artist, but it’s the easy stuff like the “oomph” and maturity level that the book slips on.
Small Steps: Great, but not perfect. Anyway, that’s it for a day here at Sammwak! Come back or check your email to see if I’ve made a new post, but for now you know what to do. Subscribe, like, comment, follow me @ G+, Press This, reblog, do anything, and then git outta here.
Stay classy America,
~S~ (Or M-Say, if you prefer pig Latin. )
Video of the Week: Now if you’ve really been keeping track of things the past few weeks, you’ve been laughing your head off at entries from Swoozie’s Cheating in School series. Well, I’ve decided to put the next video on hold, but for now here’s something equally funny. It’s also based off a true story, and since January last year it’s got over 3.2 million hits with over 40k likes, it is Swoozie’s “Confessions of a Disney Employee“. Yup, Adande “Swoozie” Thorne himself worked at MGM. And now you can know what happened in that part of his life, from the Disney snitches all the way to a few rebelliously pulled strings that led to one of the greatest times of his life…