Monday, May 26, 2014

Rollin' Old School, Newbury Style: Holes by Louis Sachar

Published:  August 20th, 1998
Holes (Holes #1)
By: Louis Sachar
ISBN-13:  9780439244190

Stanley Yelnats' family has a history of bad luck going back generations, so he is not too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Center.  Nor is he very surprised when he is told that his daily labor at the camp is to dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, and report anything he finds in that hole.  The warden claims that it is character building, but this is a lie and Stanley must dig up the truth.


     Stanley Yelnats is in trouble again, and it's all his dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather's fault!  With his family's seemingly permanent cursed state, Stanley is convicted of a crime that he didn't committ.  Given the option of jail or Camp Green Lake, Stanley chooses the camp.  After all, he's poor and has never been to camp before - it won't be that bad, will it?  Guess again!  Stanley and the other boys spend their days digging 5X5 ft. holes (one per day), supposedly to build character.  But Stanley thinks the Warden is looking for something and using the boys to do it.  Spending his days tired, thirsty, and exhausted, Stanley makes friends with a somewhat lost boy named Zero.  Teaching Zero to read, Stanley feels like he has a purpose.  But when things escalate with the other boys, the counselors and the Warden, can Stanley find a survive until he can clear his name?  Or will it be too late.....
     I read this book either at the tail end of elementary school or the beginning of middle school when I was younger.  All I know is that it captured Small Anna's attention and imagination, making me sweat along with Stanley as he dug his seemingly meaningless holes.  I love that there is an intertwined plotline with the history of Camp Green Lake when it was still a town, and how notorious outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow went "bad."  Also we get to trace Stanley's family from his great-great-grandfather Elya Yelnats (a dirty-rotten, pig stealer cursed by a gypsy if you believe family lore), to his great-grandfather who was robbed by Kissin' Kate and the rest of Stanley's family who are currently affected by the curse; Stanley's inventor father is unable to make his inventions work the way he wants.  We never find out what Stanley's Grandpa's story really is, he's mostly the storyteller, giving the readers the family history.
       I will admit that Stanley is kind of placeholder character in the grand scheme of the book, mostly weak and just there to drive forward the plot.  My favorite characters were honestly Kissin' Kate Barlow and Sam the Onion Man.  My God, was her story devastatingly sad for a kid's book!  And poor Sam and his donkey Mary Lou are somewhat tragic figures as well.  Stanley does develop though, going from and overweight, detached, quiet outsider, to a part of the group (nickname -Caveman- and all) and far braver than he ever thought he could be.  The ending is a little too fairy tale-esque in its happy ever after quality.  But then again, I'm a cynical adult now and this book is basically the equivalent of a modern day, America fairy tale.  I definitely can see why it won the Newberry Award, with its sparse, but infinitely descriptive language and rich characterizations (the Warden still freaks me out to this day, I can picture Mr. Sir with his bag of sunflower seeds, and Mr. Pendanski is easy to see as well).  I will also say that the movie, while not completey faithful, is worth checking out as well.  I very much enjoyed it when I saw it in theaters in 2003/3004 (unsure which) and I rewatched recently.  It holds up very well.  All in all, a great book for teachers and also for anyone who wants to be entertained with a thoroughly original story.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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