Author: Louis Sachar
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
First line: There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
Stanley Yelnats has terrible luck, and it’s all because of his dirty rotten no-good pig-stealing great-great-grandfather. For generations, his family has suffered under a curse of bad luck, and Stanley’s simply the latest victim. He has been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp for troubled boys. At the camp, he meets the Warden and her sidekick, Mr. Sir. Their method of reforming the boys is to force them each to dig a hole every day, five feet wide and five feet deep. It soon becomes clear that the digging isn’t random; the Warden is looking for something.
Holes is one of my daughter Natalie’s favorite books – one of the few that she has read more than once. She kept trying to convince me to read it aloud to her and the boys, but I was resistant since we’d already seen the movie (a movie which, by the way, follows the plot of the book fairly closely). I gave in, though, and I am so glad I did! As much as we enjoyed the movie, the book is truly a classic of children’s fiction. Josiah, my nine-year-old, is usually the least vocal about our read-aloud books, but he told me more than once, “I really like this book, Mom.”
As we read the story of Stanley and the Yelnats curse, we also learned the history of Camp Green Lake and why it dried up, as well as the reason the Warden is digging up the lake bed. In spite of the injustice Stanley suffers at Green Lake, he changes in ways he never could have imagined, and also meets Zero, a fellow inmate who has had as bad a run of luck as Stanley has. The two forge a friendship that has astonishing repercussions for both of their futures.
This book is full of things that kids love. There are crazy characters: the Warden, with her rattlesnake venom-infused fingernail polish; Mr. Sir and his sunflower seed habit; Kissin’ Kate Barlowe, the female outlaw who kissed each of her victims; and Madame Zeroni, the woman at the heart of the Yelnats curse. There are fiercely poisonous spotted lizards. There are lots and lots of onions and a mysterious concoction called Sploosh. There is a tragic tale of forbidden love and vengeance, and there is a terrific ending. Holes will go down as one of our favorite read-aloud experiences.