I had spotted Holes too many times on the top 50, top 100 books of all time and when I came across a copy, I simply had to read it.
Holes starts off as a sad, sad everything that can go wrong will go wrong story. Stanley Yentals has been apprehended by the police for stealing the sneakers of the baseball star Clyde Livingston from a shelter for the homeless. His father is busy burning sneakers in his attempt to recycle them. A curse by a one-legged gypsy for not fulfilling a promise haunts the Yentals. Stanley it seems is feeling the effect of the curse. The judge offers time at a juvenile facility or Camp Green Lake Camp. Stanley chooses the camp. The camp turns out to be nothing like its name. It is barren, filled with rattlesnakes and the equally deadly yellow-spotted lizards. Of course, they seem harmless when compared to the camp warden who mixes rattlesnake venom in her nail polish! A diabolic landscape with characters to match.
Stanley and his fellow inmates with colourful nicknames (Stanley’s moniker is Caveman) – Magnet, Zigzag, Zero, Barf, X-ray, Squid, Armpit- have to dig a hole five feet by five feet every single day.
“He noticed a thin crack in the ground. He placed the point of the shovel on top of it, then jumped on the back of the blade with both feet. The shovel sank a few inches into the packed earth. He smiled. For once in his life it paid to be overweight. He leaned on the shaft and pried up his first shovelful of dirt and then dumped it off the side.
Only ten million more to go, he thought, then placed the shovel back in the crack and jumped on it again.”
It doesn’t help that Stanley did not steal the sneakers, but they fell on his head from above, literally. Now who is going to buy that story?
Holes is not just Stanley Yenlnats the IV’s story. A parallel track of Stanley’s great- great grandfather and the gypsy, Stanley’s great- grandfather and the outlaw Kate Barlow runs in the novel. The past and the present serve as interludes each other and in the end, we realize they both need each other as well.
Louis Sachar excels in his descriptions. Take this one of the yellow spotted lizard for instance.
Each lizard has exactly eleven yellow spots, but the spots are hard to see on it’s yellow-green body. The lizard is six to ten inches long and has big red eyes. In truth, its eyes are yellow, and it is the skin around the eyes which is red, but everyone always speaks of its red eyes. It also has black teeth and a milky white tongue.
Looking at one, you would have thought it should have been named a “a red- eyed” lizard or a “black- toothed” lizard or perhaps a “white-tongued” lizard.
If you’ve ever been close enough to see the yellow spots, you’re probably dead. The yellow-spotted lizards like to live in holes, which offer shade from the sun and protection from predatory birds. Up to twenty lizards may live in one hole. They have strong, powerful legs, and can leap out of very deep holes to attack their prey. They eat small animals, insects, certain cactus thorns and the shells of sunflower seeds.
Louis Sachar took eighteen months, the time of Stanley’s sentencing to finish the book. He was asked why so many children identified with Stanley. Sachar replied,
“Stanley isn’t a hero-type. He’s a kind of pathetic kid who feels like he has no friends, feels like his life is cursed. And I think everyone can identify with that in one way or another. And then there’s the fact that here he is, a kid who isn’t a hero, but he lifts himself up and becomes one. I think readers can imagine themselves rising with Stanley.”
A spoiler I can share about this wonderful book is that things do get better for Stanley but in the strangest way, and it involves onions.
Holes is the recipient of the following awards:
-1999 Newbery Medal
-1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
– A Christopher Award for Juvenile Fiction
– An ALA Notable Book
– An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
– An ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults
– A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year
– A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book
– A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
– A Publishers Weekly Notable Children’s Book of the Year
– A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
– A Horn Book Fanfare Title
– A Riverbank Review 1999 Children’s Book of Distinction
– A New York Public Library Children’s Book of 1998-100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
– A Texas Lone Star Award Nominee
– A NECBA Fall List Title
Holes is a is a great book for kids who are on their way up the reading pole. The camaraderie among the inmates of Green Lake Camp and sometimes the lack of it, the incredible story of Kate Barlow or Kissing Kate, the ruthlessness of some adults, the unfairness of circumstances and simply great writing make Holes an un-missable list and high on Little Kulture’s recommendation list. .
Sachar has written Stanley Yelnats Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake. This book details how to dig a perfect hole, identify the animals and plants of the barren landscape.
The two books together or singly make for good reading and gifting.
Age Range: 10 and up
Grade Level: 5 and up
Lexile Measure: 660L