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Literature / Small Steps

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Small Steps is a young adult novel by Louis Sachar. It is a sequel to Holes which follows Theodore ("Armpit") and X-Ray after their release from Camp Green Lake.

Two years later, Armpit is trying to finish passing high school, earn some money, and get his life back on track. X-Ray, however, plans a get-rich-quick scheme with him by scalping tickets. Those tickets, however, are for the concert of Kaira De Leon, a troubled teen pop singer. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways.


  • Adults Are Useless: Armpit's parents seem unable to believe that their son has become a better person, and sometimes lie to his face while lecturing him. Kaira's mom throws everything to her husband. The husband tries to kill her.
  • Aesop Amnesia: X-Ray was arrested and sent to Camp Green Lake for running a scam selling fake marijuana. He's back to it as soon as he and Armpit are out, roping him into a ticket-scalping scheme. What makes it worse is he gives Armpit a photocopied ticket to use at the concert, which gets the latter beaten up and nearly sent to jail again.
  • Affably Evil: Billy Boy, an anonymous person who regularly sends Kaira letters telling he loves her, she's beautiful, and one day he'll kill her. He turns out to be El Genius.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Kaira hates her bodyguard Fred and regularly tries to ditch him. El Genius had hoped for this, so that he could murder her in secret and not get the blame for it since he was the one who hired Fred.
    • This was also done earlier in the book, as it's revealed the story about how Kaira's tickets sold for $750 in Philadelphia was planted by El Genius to increase demand for them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kaira is saved, but she not only has memory loss but her voice is damaged and she is financially ruined, thanks to her mother's friend stealing all of her money. It is said that she starts singing again, with some difficulty, so there is hope for her to recover her old life.
  • Career-Ending Injury: El Genius used to be a baseball player in the Minor Leagues, until a baseball struck him in the face. This caused him to reflexively shut his eyes when swinging a bat, and he couldn't hit another pitch.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Kaira's bodyguard whom she calls a doofus. It turns out he is good at his job and refuses to let El Genius murder her even as she tries to ditch him.
    • Before that, the mayor who Armpit met in the opening scene shows up to stick up for him during the concert when he's accused of forging his ticket and drugging Ginny. (The ticket was forged, but Armpit was unaware of it.)
  • Chekhov's Skill: In-universe, Armpit and X-Ray's time at Camp Green Lake helps them get landscaping jobs back home.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: To Armpit, Kaira opens up almost instantly, but it takes an entire murder attempt for her to open up to her bodyguard.
  • Demoted to Extra: All of the Camp Green Lake kids except Armpit and X-Ray. Stanley is mentioned once, and not even by name (apparently he gave Armpit lots of free boxes of Sploosh), and the others don't even get that much.
  • Disability Superpower: Ginny has cerebral palsy, and is implied to be good at math. Each of her stuffed animals are also disabled, with some kind of hidden talent.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Armpit got into Camp Green Lake because he beat up a group of boys who tripped him and made him spill his popcorn.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-Universe. El Genius jokes about how Ginny went into a seizure, causing the cops to think Armpit had given her drugs. Kaira hates this, and personally requests to see them.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Debbie finds out Armpit was one of the ticket scalpers, but doesn't arrest for it because "As I said, case closed."
  • Flipping the Bird: A jogger does this to X-Ray after he flirts with her from his van.
  • Genre Shift: Small Steps is much more rooted in reality than Holes, being about ticket scalping and abusive music managers rather than curses and lost cowboy treasure.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Kaira does enjoy performing, but resents not having much time to herself and no real friends. Not helping is her step-father controlling her life and career, and keeping her isolated.
  • Heroic Resolve: In the climax, Fred gets a knife to his side, and Armpit's arm is broken after El Genius ambushes him with a baseball bat. Fred, while playing possum, manages to trip El Genius, allowing Armpit to get the upper hand and beat him unconscious with his one good arm.
  • Hidden Depths: Of all the characters of Holes, did you really think Armpit would be the kind, thoughtful one? The movie actually implies it, by giving Squid/Alan's lines at the end to him (in which he gives Stanley a phone number and tells him to call his mother and tell her he's sorry for something).
  • Idiot Ball: Kaira, instead of keeping her mouth shut, tells El Genius that the minute she is eighteen, he is fired as her manager. El Genius may have tried to kill her anyway, but he has a greater incentive.
  • I Have This Friend: Played with. Kaira thinks Armpit is doing this when he attempts to explain the situation. Armpit tells her that "his friend" (meaning X-Ray) was the ticket scalper, and she angrily asks him something like "was it you who kissed me earlier, or your friend?"
  • I Lied: Armpit only agreed to X-Ray's scheme to get him off his back and asks to keep some of the tickets so he can take Ginny to Kaira's concert. The tickets that X-Ray gave him were photocopied rather than the real deal. Armpit is not amused when he nearly gets arrested and Ginny has a seizure. X-Ray is unrepentant.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Armpit is confused to hear Kaira sing "Oh, you'd never guess, Armpit, [I'm a] damsel in distress." It's actually a mondegreen saying "I'm but". Kaira actually sings his version later.
  • Innocent Innuendo:
    Armpit: Did you tell her my nickname?
    Ginny: I just told her it was a part of the body.
  • Insistent Terminology: X-Ray insists that "X-Ray" isn't his nickname, it's actually his name in another language.
  • Irony: Armpit's new job after leaving Camp Green Lake? Digging holes. (Well, technically trenches, but...)
  • Jerkass: X-Ray has clearly learned nothing from his experiences at Green Lake.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: El Genius. Kaira points out to him the parallel with her name and Juan Ponce de León, but he's never heard of him. He turns out to be smarter about committing murder.
  • Morality Pet: Ginny to Armpit. Also counts as a sort of Littlest Cancer Patient.
  • Named After the Injury: The book reveals that Armpit got his nickname after getting stung by a scorpion, and the pain eventually settled in his armpit.
  • Near-Villain Victory: El Genius almost murders Kaira, but gets foiled by Armpit's last-minute interruption. His partner-in-crime and fellow tour manager, Aileen, embezzles all of Kaira's savings and runs off to Belize with a fake identity, only to end up arrested anyway. However, the money is never recovered.
  • One-Steve Limit: Enforced. Kaira's real name is Kathy Spears, but she performs under a stage name because Britney already took that surname.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Backfires when El Genius tries to frame Armpit for his attempted murder of Kaira, when he leaves some of Armpit's possessions at the crime scene, and uses a baseball bat with Armpit's fingerprints on it. X-Ray lampshades how the Frame-Up was too obvious, since Armpit couldn't possibly bring a baseball bat to the hotel without anyone noticing it.
  • Police Brutality: Security officers at the concert beat up and handcuff Armpit for having photocopied tickets instead of questioning him first. Then accuse him of drugging Ginny when she has a seizure.
  • Properly Paranoid: Kaira believes her stepdad was sending the death threat letters. He was. And tries to kill her.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Debbie; she knows that Armpit and X-Ray were the ticket scalpers. She refuses to prosecute them because Armpit suffered punishment enough by inadvertently arriving at the concert with phony tickets and then nearly getting framed for murder. Plus, El Genius was the one who was encouraging scalpers by making up stories about how popular Kaira is and he's already in jail now.
  • Shady Scalper: Armpit once gets roped into his friend X-Ray's scheme to scalp concert tickets.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Kaira does have a therapist, but doesn't trust her because El Genius was the one who hired her.
  • Title Drop: "Small steps" is Armpit's motto to rebuilding his life, as well as Ginny's recovery. It ends up being the title of Kaira's new song.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • "El Genius", Kaira's stepfather, real name being Jerome Paisley. Kaira also nicknames her bodyguard "Doofus".
    • One of Armpit's goals is to try to lose his nickname.
  • Wham Line: "Should I sign [your cast] 'Theodore' or 'Armpit'?" Subverted with the next line. "As I said, case closed."