Author: Louis Sachar
Age Range: 9-12 (publisher info)
Interest Range: 9-12
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Plot: Stanley has been convicted of a crime he did not commit, he just happens to be very unlucky. Because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Stanley has been sent to a very severe juvenile detention camp where he is forced to dig holes in the middle of the desert. While there he learns what it feels like to be accepted, no longer the fat kid and the outsider that is picked on by the school bully. But the relationship he has with his new-found friends is shaky, and soon he is being picked on again. The boys in his group aren’t happy that he’s made a trade with Zero: one hour of hole-digging done for Stanley by Zero for one hour of Stanley teaching Zero how to read and write. As the boys’ teasing of Stanley turns to a physical fight, Zero gets involves and ends up running off into the desert. A few days later, overcome with guilt and worry over Zero’s fate, Stanley ventures off to find him and bring him back.
Review: The only other Sachar I’ve read are the Wayside School books. Growing up I loved the nonsense and would read those stories over and over again. Holes is incredibly different, dealing with some very real and heavy issues: race, bullying, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, and loss. But the story moves quickly, and through Stanley’s eyes we get glimpses of each of these topics without letting any of them overwhelm us. The race issue is there, but rarely talked about. It mostly comes up just before the fistfight, with the boys making references to Zero being Stanley’s slave. Although Stanley does make one other off-handed mention of it when he first lets the reader know that half of the boys in the group are black and half of them are white and there’s even one lone hispanic boy. For the most part, the boys all co-exist with absolutely no problems or even mention of their races. Zero is dealing with the loss of his mother, although it is unclear if she is only missing or dead. Stanley is bullied, but again it isn’t talked about in great detail. Just enough to let you know that it was something that bothered him and something that he makes reference to when seeing how the boys interact with each other at the camp. Both Stanley and Zero face the idea of homelessness, Zero having lived it and Stanley’s parents dealing with the threat of it at any time. The book handles all of these topics well, not dwelling very long on any of them and focusing more on the story at hand than anything else. And Stanley’s story is a good one that certainly ends well.
Themes: Coming of age, Making new friends, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness, Illiteracy
Awards: Newbery award winner, 1999; National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 1998
Other Media: Was also adapted into a film in 2003.
Stanley Yelnats: The 4th of his name, he is a very unlucky boy in a family of very unlucky men. Stanley has grown up with being bullied at school and is eventually sent to a juvenile detention facility for a crime he did not commit. More than anything, Stanley just wants to fit in with the boys in his newly assigned group. And he does, for a little while.
Zero: Hector Zeroni is a very small kid. And he likes digging holes, or at least he says he does. Eventually we learn that he and Stanley are connected in more ways than one, but most importantly it was Zero who stole the shoes that landed Stanley at Camp Green Lake.
Sachar, L. (1998) Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Can a curse really last for over 100 years? Stanley Yelants seems to be proof that it can.