Synopsis: Theodore (“Armpit”), rehabilitated after his stint at Camp Green Lake digging holes and a halfway house, now lives at home in Austin, TX with a decent job with a landscaper (digging… what he does best!). He has five small steps he wants to take to keep moving forward: 1. Graduate high school, 2. Get a job, 3. Save his money, 4. Stay out of situations where it could be violent, 5. Rid himself of the nickname “Armpit.”
X-Ray lives in town too, and has a money-making scheme: scalp tickets to a Kaira DeLeon concert. He just needs a loan from Armpit, and he’ll double Armpit’s money. Armpit reluctantly goes for the plan, knowing he’s blowing step 3 and possibly step 4. Although the tickets are getting sold, Theodore decides he wants to keep two so he can ask a girl out in his summer school class. When she cancels on him, he asks if his ten-year old neighbor Ginny can go after she’s had a bad day. Ginny has cerebral palsy, and although they are an odd pair, she and Theodore are very close. X-Ray drives them to the concert and gives them the tickets. Turns out, he gave them counterfeit tickets because he made a last minute deal with a guy. When security tries to take Theo on, Ginny has a seizure. Kaira hears about this and sets them up backstage to watch her concert.
Teen sensation Kaira has some issues. Her dad died in Iraq (doesn’t explicitly say which time) and her stepdad Jerome Paisley is her manager telling her to “keep shaking that sexy body.” Ugh. He also likes to be referred to as “El Genius.” When Kaira complains to her band about her mom being ever watchful over her, they inform her that mom should be watching out for El Genius and the tour manager Aileen, since they’re having an affair. Kaira also doesn’t care for her bodyguard Fred, who was hired after a couple threatening letters from “Billy Boy.” Yes, as in “Where have you gone, Charming Billy?” She tries ditching Fred any chance she can.
Anyway, Kaira, Theodore, and Ginny have a good time backstage and later in her bus. She calls Theodore the next morning to have a breakfast date before she leaves town, and suggests that he come to San Francisco when she performs there– she’ll take care of the costs. Fred the bodyguard prevents them from kissing. Meanwhile, there’s an investigation over who would sell counterfeit tickets, and Theodore is not a good liar. He gets an embarrassing letter from Kaira, and the other scalpers that Theo almost gets in trouble suggest selling it (for some reason I didn’t quite understand).
At any rate, Theodore makes it to San Fran. He asks Kaira if she’d write him a note to get him out of trouble with the other scalpers. She gets pissed and ditches him. Jerome has discovered Theodore’s criminal history, and decides to frame Theo for the murder of Kaira. Jerome comes in with a baseball bat with the initials “BB” on them (for Billy Boy), and fortunately Fred is there. Unfortunately, Fred gets stabbed trying to save her, but Theo walks in and gets her stepdad subdued. She gets the bat to her windpipe, and it’s uncertain whether she’ll be able to sing again. Aileen has embezzled most of Kaira’s money and escaped to Belize.
Months pass. The search for the scalpers has ended since the detective figured out it was X-Ray and “Armpit” but she decided it wasn’t worth it. In February, a new song is on the radio. It is clearly Kaira, although with a more fragile voice. She is singing about taking small steps, and maybe, one day, making it back somewhere.
- This is a sequel to Holes, and it’s really good… different tone from Holes, fewer palindromes, but it’s still good. Read in 2 hours or so.
- We learn a lot about Armpit and X-Ray in this book that wasn’t divulged previously. Armpit– I mean, Theodore– got sent to Camp because he was tripped at a movie theatre and got into a fight over the spilled popcorn. X-Ray… sold bags of parsley for $50/oz.
- I love Theodore’s relationship with Ginny. They can see each other for who they really are. He doesn’t feel sorry for her; she isn’t scared of him. They’re both very bold. If someone asks Ginny what’s wrong with her, she simply says there was bleeding in my brain when I was born. X-Ray is also awesome to Ginny.
- Some awesome snapshots into their relationship: she provides a stuffed animal for Theo to make a speech on. When she finds out her dad left when she was a baby because of her condition, Theodore says, “I didn’t know your dad was disabled. He must’ve had something wrong with his soul to leave you like that. You can go to physical therapy, but what can someone do with a disability in their heart?” <– Probably misquoted, but this scene really touched me.
- Kaira’s stepdad is a total creep, in case you couldn’t tell from the attempted murder and making a statement about his stepdaughter’s sexiness. Ew. When Ginny has her seizure, Jerome laughs about the girl who looks like a fish out of water. This triggers Kaira inviting them backstage. He also fires the drummer for introducing Kaira to Janis Joplin (whom she butchers for an encore).
- Theodore’s parents are very argumentative with him. While Ginny’s mom doesn’t bat an eye at him taking her to the concert, Theo’s flip out. They even wondering why he didn’t leave the concert early (he got home at midnight). They periodically make him take a home drug test. I know they’re probably trying to avoid mistakes, but … seems harsh, is all.
- Small steps isn’t a big theme, but I like what Theodore says about it. A counselor said the important thing was to keep moving forward, small steps. El Genius has told Kaira to take big steps so she can live the pop star life as long as she can milk it (which, generally, isn’t long).
Grades: Amazon says 5-8. Fifth grade kids may not understand some of the inferences (why is selling $50 parsley funny? I mean, it makes a dish look expensive! ;-)), it’s the age range for Holes.
Grade: A Sachar is great. It doesn’t have the same tone or feeling as Holes, but nonetheless, it makes you fall in love with characters that are barely memorable in the first book. This is a book about redemption, resilience, and not falling into other people’s expectations for you. I think you could get away with not reading Holes first, but it would be very difficult to get attached to the story without that background.