by Louis Sachar

Random House: 1998

233 pp.

Age: 10 +

Interests: mystery, fate, jail, desert, survival, friendship

Also by this author: Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Marvin Redpost series, and Small Steps – a sequel of sorts to Holes, following some of the other boys from Camp Green Lake

Next: the movie version Holes (2003) is very good, and quite faithful to the novel

Stanley Yelnats is plagued with bad luck, as was his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. Long ago his great-great grandfather broke a promise to a gypsy, who promptly placed a curse on the whole family. It is Stanley’s enduring misfortune to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which finally results in an unjust accusation of theft. He is charged, tried and sentenced to two years in a boys’ detention centre in the middle of the Texas desert. Camp Green Lake isn’t green and there’s no water, just a parched lakebed. It’s got to be the dryest, hottest, worst place in the world. And it’s a labour camp; every day the boys go out to dig holes in the dry lakebed. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize that all their digging isn’t just to “build character”. The Warden – she with the rattlesnake venom nail polish – has got her own reasons for all those holes. She’s looking for something.

As Stanley learns how to cope with his harsh surroundings and stay on the right side of the guards and his fellow inmates, he works at unravelling the mystery. He also befriends another boy (Zero) and starts to teach him to read, a kindness which spirals into all kinds of trouble for the both of them.

It’s a complicated plot, but the past history of Green Lake – including racism and murder – is linked with Stanley’s own family curse in a strange mix of fate and coincidence. Just when things look the worst for Stanley and Zero, on the run in the unforgiving desert, the threads of fate draw them toward their destiny – accidentally resolving the family curse, finding buried treasure and tripping up the evil Warden and her plans for good. With a few rattlesnakes and a whole lot of deadly lizards thrown in for good measure.

This is a very compelling, entertaining read for middle schoolers. It’s a little dark, particularly in the beginning when poor old Stanley – overweight and incessantly bullied – just can’t seem to catch a break. His first look at Camp Green Lake is pretty bleak, but the friendship between the incarcerated boys and Stanley’s persistence and morality infuse the story with heart and hope. A flashback sequence taking place in the 1890s includes a terrible, murderous village reaction to inter-racial romance, which might be disturbing for readers, though it is not overly violent.

A compelling, suspenseful tale about fate, kindness, and digging holes.

(available at amazon.com)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 11:23:54

    One of my favourites. You should also try Small Steps, another by Sachar, which is in the same universe, but is not really a sequel.

    I was pleased with the movie, actually. You are right about Stanley no longer being overweight but, other than that, the movie is a pretty good rendition of the original story.


    • Kim
      Feb 13, 2013 @ 12:14:44

      Thanks Sue, I forgot to mention Small Steps in the review. Will add. I’m glad the movie was good, I’ll try to watch it soon. I was irked though about the “weight loss” – the whole point of the book was to cheer on the underdogs of society, so it seems a real act of cowardice to back away from casting an overweight hero.


  2. Mary Gilmartin
    Feb 14, 2013 @ 17:44:08

    A great author, book and movie that I’ve enjoyed watching several times.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.