Small Steps is a young adult novel. It is the sequel to Holes.
About three years have elapsed since Holes. After being released from Camp Green Lake, a juvenile correctional facility, Theodore "Armpit" Johnson is back home at Austin, Texas, trying to rebuild a stable life by digging holes and installing pipes and sprinkler systems. The only person who thinks that Armpit is any good is his 10-year-old neighbor Ginny McDonald who was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to speak without stuttering (except when she is singing or doing math)
Armpit also reveals that he is taking small steps to improve his life:
- Graduate High School
- Get a job
- Save money
- Avoid fights
- Lose the nickname Armpit.
Armpit's life goes great until the day when X-Ray, his friend from camp, shows up with a sure-fire moneymaking plan. He plans to sell tickets to a Kaira DeLeon concert happening there. Armpit is reluctant to do so at first, not wanting to throw his good life out of whack. X-Ray eventually urges him to go along with the plan.
At home, Armpit asks Ginny if she would pay different sums of money for a concert ticket. When he gets to $100 dollars, Ginny says no. Armpit informs her of what X-Ray said, that two tickets sold for $750 each in Philidelphia. Ginny does not believe what he says, stating that Armpit should not believe all the stuff X-Ray says.
The next day, Armpit stops at the A.T.M to get the money for the tickets. During his speech class, he is told along with the rest of the class about their next assignment, where they must bring in a stuffed animal and write a speech about why the animal should be voted "Ruler of the World."
Armpit and X-Ray go to the concert to buy the tickets. While listening to a Kaira-DeLeon, Armpit hears something odd: Kaira says his name in the song.
Armpit and X-Ray meet two other people named Felix and Moses. Felix and Moses talk with Armpit and X-Ray about money. Eventually, Armpit and X-Ray are able to buy the tickets.
Armpit talks with Ginny on the way home about how he had aced his economics test with help from what Felix said about money. He then remembers his speech and asks Ginny if he can borrow a stuffed animal for his speech. Ginny says yes and takes him to her room, which is full of stuffed animals. She shows Armpit some, all of which have disabilities (Can't hear, can't see, etc.). She finally shows him one she loves the most: A stuffed animal with a rabbit's body and a human's arms and legs that is named "Coo". Armpit asks if Coo has a disability. Ginny says Coo had leukemia, but they, "Don't talk about it".
Armpit gives a very convincing speech, but Coo does not win the election, and instead loses to an armidillo named Joe (Which was obviously made up along with the entire speech right on the spot) Armpit's crush, Tatiana, expresses her sorrow that Coo lost. Armpit decides to ask Tatiana if she wants to come to the Kaira DeLeon concert, and she agrees.
However, after Armpit tells X-Ray not to sell the last two tickets, Tatiana calls him and says she cannot come to the concert. Armpit decides to ask Ginny if she wants to come instead. Ginny agrees, and her mother approves.
Armpit orders X-Ray not to sell the tickets again (Having told X-Ray to sell them when he found out Tatiana couldn't go). X-Ray says there is someone on the other line of the phone who wants to pay $200 a ticket! Armpit still tells X-Ray not to sell them, with X-Ray agreeing reluctantly.
Armpit takes Ginny to the concert. He is willing to put in an extra eight dollars to buy Ginny a Kaira DeLeon tour t-shirt, but Ginny's mother has told Armpit not to use his own money. When they find their seats, they are approached by a security guard who asks to see their tickets. After searching, Armpit gives the guard the tickets, which he says are fake. Armpit reaches for the tickets, but is attacked by the guards. One guard asks what someone is "on". The guards call for a doctor and are talking about having to pump someone's stomache. Armpit looks up to see Ginny on the floor twitching and jerking uncontrollably. He realizes Ginny is having a seizure, but the guards refuse to let Armpit try to help.
Fortunately, Armpit and the guards are approached by the mayor. Armpit reminds the mayor of what she said to him the day he dug a trench in her yard for her sprinkler system. She orders the guards to let Armpit go. Armpit and Ginny are taken to the medical center where they meet none other than Kaira DeLeon, who had come to see if Ginny was all right. She invites Ginny to watch the show from backstage. Armpit follows.
After the concert (During which Armpit hears Kaira say his name in a song again) , Kaira invites Armpit and Ginny to come to her dressing room and have a bowl of ice cream. They talk about Camp Green Lake. Ginny wants to tell Kaira Armpit's nickname from camp, but Armpit tells her not to. Kaira whispers something into Ginny's ear, with Ginny doing the same.
As they drive home, Armpit asks Ginny if she told Kaira his nickname. Ginny says she gave Kaira a hint, stating it was a part of the human body.
The next day, Armpit confronts X-Ray for giving him fake tickets. X-Ray tries to explain why he did it. Soon, Armpit gets a call from Kaira inviting him to come have breakfast with her at the Four Seasons. While taking a walk afterwards, Armpit tells Kaira that he will tell her his nickname on the condition that whatever body part it is, she must touch him there. Following through with the agreement, Kaira touches Armpit's armpit. Afterwards, Armpit almost kisses her. However, they are stopped by Fred, Kaira's bodyguard.
Soon, a police officer arrives at Armpit's home. She wants to talk about the fake tickets so she can help catch the person who sold them. Armpit feeds her false information that he bought the tickets from an Iranian man named Habib. Detective Newberg believes the story and leaves.
Some days later, Kaira sends Armpit a very emotional letter saying how much she misses him (And repeatedly saying she won't send it).
Armpit later gets a call from Kaira and tells her that he got the letter. She invites him to come to San Francisco with her for a while. Armpit agrees, leaving a note for his parents.
Around the same time, Detective Newberg says she has a suspect in the phony ticket scheme in custody. The suspect turns out to be X-Ray. He goes along with Armpit's, "Habib" story, but tells very obvious lies at the same time. Threatened with jail time for providing false information, X-Ray begins telling convincing lies.
Before Armpit leaves for San Francisco, Felix and Moses approach him and demand he give them the letter from Kaira or they will rat out X-Ray to Detective Newberg. After getting into a physical fight with them, he leaves for San Francisco.
In San Francisco, Armpit asks Kaira if she can write another letter for him so he can give it to Felix. Convinced he is using her, Kaira leaves in a huff.
At the hotel, Kaira leaves her bathroom, only to be attacked by her stepfather, who attempts to murder her. Armpit enters the hotel room to leave the letter and, hearing the fight, confronts Jerome. Armpit overpowers him and the police are summoned.
Back home in Austin, Armpit talks to X-Ray and Ginny about his experience. Detective Newberg also reveals that she is going to give up trying to figure out the ticket scheme. Before leaving, she also reveals she deduced that Armpit was involved, but thinks nothing of it.
The book ends with Armpit going over his new list of small steps.
- Graduate high school
- Spend two years at Austin Community College
- Transfer to the University of Texas
- Don't do anything stupid
- Lose the nickname Armpit.