Stanley Yelnats's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake — it's been dry for over a hundred years — and it's hardly a camp: as punishment, the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but that's a lie. Stanley must try to dig up the truth.

In this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters — and their forebears — for generations. It is a darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment — and redemption.1

Louis Sachar's Holes (ISBN 0440414806) is the winner of both the National Book Award and the John Newberry Medal (1999). Even though the Newberry Medal is for contributions to American children's literature, and the jacket of my hardcover seems to be aimed at kids, I wouldn't give this book to your sixth-graders to read. This is one of those books you might read as a kid but only half-understand, and then read again ten years later and get a different feel from. Not as much as Catcher in the Rye or anything — it's not really about the socio-political ramifications of a semi-totalitarian subculture in modern America, but what seems like a story with your basic good/evil dichotomy to a young reader is actually a well-created story of million-to-one odds, the past coming back to haunt you and the enduring spirit of fourteen-year-old boys. Sachar's storytelling reveals the current plot along with the past that explains and help shapes the future of the story with a style that never leaves a dull moment for you to put down the book.

The story is about young Stanley, who is arrested and given the choice of going to jail, or going to Camp Green Lake, a boys-only juvenile detention center in the middle of South Bumblefuck, Texas. He was wrongfully accused, and it was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. His great-great-grandfather broke a promise with a one-legged Egyptian woman, who put a curse on him and all his descendants. Since then, it seemed like the family was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, like Stanley's great-grandfather, who was robbed and left in the desert by Kissin' Kate Barlow.

Actually, Stanley was wrongfully accused because he hadn't stolen the shoes he was accused of stealing; they had fallen from the sky. Someone — the real thief — had tossed them from the overpass he was walking under, and they hit him on the head. He ran home to give them to his father (who is trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers), and on the way, the cops picked him up. There was a hearing, and he was given the choice of going to jail, or going to Camp Green Lake.

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there.

During the summer the daytime temperature hovers around ninety-five degrees in the shade. There's not much shade in a big dry lake.1, p. 3

At Camp Green Lake, you dig. They say it's to build character, but Stanley thinks it has something to do with Kissin' Kate Barlow. And he's right — but he never thought it would have anything to do with a descendant of the Egyptian woman who put a curse on his family, or a descendant of the man who wanted Kissin' Kate's treasure, or a hundred-year-old rowboat full of Kissin' Kate's homemade peach jam, or a crop of sweet onions and some deadly yellow-spotted lizards, or a place called God's Thumb, breaking the curse on his family, or even the secret that his inventive-but-unlucky father had been trying to find for years.

A great read — I recommend it to anyone who's ever gotten into (or out of) trouble.


Holes is also the movie based on the book, released April 18, 2003 and directed by Andrew Davis. It's quite good about staying close to the book, since the screenplay was written by Sachar.

The movie is rated PG (violence, mild language and some thematic elements) and runs 117 minutes.

Starring:2

          The Warden : Sigourney Weaver
             Mr. Sir : Jon Voight
       Dr. Pendanski : Tim Blake Nelson
     Stanley Yelnats : Shia LaBeouf
Hector "Zero" Zeroni : Khleo Thomas (such a cute kid!)
               Squid : Jake M. Smith
              Armpit : Byron Cotton
               X-Ray : Brenden Jefferson
              Magnet : Miguel Castro
              Zigzag : Max Kasch

The cast also includes Siobhan Fallon (wife of "Egger" from the beginning of Men in Black, and one of the cops in Dancer in the Dark) as Stanley's mother, and Dulé Hill (Charlie from "The West Wing," he was also in Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk) as Sam (Kate's love interest), as well as Andrew Davis' father, Nathan Davis (he was in Poltergeist III!) as Stanley's grandfather.


References:
1: Louis Sachar, Holes (Frances Foster Books, New York: 1998). The quote at the beginning of this node is part of the blurb from the dust jacket.
2: Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com).

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