Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

Posted February 13, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Holes by Louis Sachar
Genres: Fiction
Published by Scholastic on September 2, 2000
Pages: 233
Format: Paperback
Source: the library

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First in the Holes realistic dark fiction series for young adults and revolving around Stanley Yelnats, a young man falsely imprisoned in Green Lake, Texas.

In 2002, Holes won the Sunshine State Young Readers Award for Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-8 and the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award; in 2001, it won the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award for Older Readers, the Grand Canyon Reader Award for Teen Book, the Nene Award, the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award for Grade 6-9, the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, the New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award for Young Adult, the Oklahoma Sequoyah Award for Children and YA, the Evergreen Teen Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award for Junior, and was nominated for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Jugendbuch.

In 2000, Holes won the Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award, the Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 6-8, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, and the Zilveren Zoen. In 1999, it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and the John Newbery Medal. In 1998, Holes won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. And, yes, they made it into a movie of the same name.

My Take

It’s all about justice…in so many ways. Or should I say the lack of? Sachar pokes fun at society’s idea of punishment building character, at society’s bigotry and carelessness. On the plus side, Stanley does find a better justice at the end. One that ties up unfinished business, closes up a nasty racket, and helps his family.

It’s also about greed and how people in a position of power will use and abuse it. I did appreciate the lake and the drought with their idea of vengeance, lol.

Poor Stanley. He’s such a sweet kid, an innocent who is quite reserved and tries to make the best of circumstances, which comes out in the tone Sachar uses along with his third-person limited point-of-view. Check out those letters he writes home!

It’s quite the journey for Stanley. The poor kid is fat, picked on, and doesn’t like himself at the start. All that physical labor and the poor treatment at the camp is torture for him. Combine that with the injustice of his imprisonment that he simply accepts, and it’s an outer journey that parallels the inner one.

That’s the start of Stanley’s character arc, as he grows through the story — like most kids, he simply wants to fit in, be accepted. Part of his “growth” is physical as he leans down, and muscles up, physically — and morally. As he grows, questions the reactions of his teammates, the extra work Zero is doing, and realizes he could teach and dig holes just as Zero works harder to do extra digging AND learn in the evenings. It’s that growth…along with guilt and worry that pushes Stanley into acting and going after Zero. And then concern as they head for Big Thumb. It’s a survival that causes Stanley to be proactive for the first time in his life.

Holes flips back and forth between the far past and the present, and despite the non-linear narrative Sachar used on the backstory, it was easy to follow as the subplot twists and twines around the main plot. Although, that sudden twist near the end, made no sense. The adults simply leapt in there.

There were too many holes in this. Okay, okay, the holes the kids are forced to dig…and those within the storyline. Geez. Just because it was written for young adults, doesn’t mean it’s okay to slack off on the writing. That or I am so incredibly sheltered! No lawyer? A too-quick judge? Where’s the public defender? How did that camp get away with their actions for so long? In fact, why would anyone put a juvenile detention center there in the first place?? As for Pendanski, he shifts pretty quickly from his loving persona to the bully. Never saw that coming!

I did like how Sachar tied everything together, from that gold tube right on through to the jars of peaches and the suitcase. It was a nice bit of poetic justice with that surprise ending, lol.

It’s very easy reading with some bits of horror that the kids will get a nice shiver over, and I was grateful for the epilogue that tidied everything up.

The Story

It’s a miscarriage of justice is what it is — and all the fault of that no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather — and it only gets worse when Stanley arrives at a boys’ detention center. That fantasy of camp is an illusion he’ll continue with his family, but Green Lake hasn’t been green or a lake in decades.

As for building character, it’s more like digging it up, as the boys spend all day, every day, digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake?

The Characters

Stanley “Caveman” Yelnats IV is a fat kid from a loving, but poor family. Stanley’s smart and persevering father is an inventor. Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, wasn’t actually a pig-stealer but a promise breaker from Latvia. As a too-young man, he had a passion for Myra Menke and was in competition for her hand with Igor Barkov, an old pig farmer. Madame Zeroni was an old Egyptian woman. Elya ended up marrying Sarah Miller.

Camp Green Lake is…
…a juvenile detention center located on the wasteland of a dried-up lake in Texas. Warden Walker owns the only shade. The bullying Mr. Sir is trying to quit smoking. Mr. “Mom” Pendanski is in charge of Tent D and its boys: X-Ray (Rex), Squid (Alan), Magnet (José), Armpit (Theodore), Zigzag (Ricky), and the illiterate and brilliant Zero (Hector Zeroni). Twitch (Brian) is the new kid. Barf Bag, a.k.a., Lewis, is in the hospital. Lucky kid.

Mrs. Bell is Stanley’s clueless, insensitive math teacher. Derrick Dunne is an honest bully at the school.

Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingstone is a baseball player who donated his old sneakers to a homeless shelter. Mrs. Morengo is Stanley’s, eventual, lawyer and a patent attorney.

110 years ago on Green Lake
Miss Katherine Barlow, the schoolteacher, was famous for her spiced peaches. Charles “Trout” Walker was the obnoxious son of the richest man in town. Dr. Hawthorn was the local doctor and in friendly competition with the onion-growing, black Sam. Mary Lou was Sam’s donkey. Mrs. Collingwood, Bo, Walter, and Jesse are townsfolk. Hattie Parker is a nasty-minded woman; her husband, Jim, is the not-so-clean butcher. Mr. Pike owns the general store. Linda Miller was socially ambitious. Mrs. Gladys Tennyson is so grateful for Sam’s help with little Becca.

Kissin’ Kate Barlow was an outlaw who screwed up the Yelnats family in her day.

The Cover and Title

The cover of the book I read appeared to use pastels as the medium with a dry, sandy background with a hole in it and a very close close-up of Stanley in profile in a red baseball cap (on backwards) with his eye trying to look behind him.

The title is the whole point of the action, Holes.

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