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Holes (1998)

by Louis Sachar

Series: Holes (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
20,481919161 (4.06)1 / 349
As further evidence of his family's bad fortune which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself.
  1. 41
    Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Maiasaura, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: With tall-tale elements, quirky characters and serious themes such as racism, these poignant and humorous novels with fully-realized settings are about brave boys who make a big difference in the lives of those around them.
  2. 20
    Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: With offbeat characters and distinctive settings, these well-paced, affecting and funny novels are about compassionate boys: Moose, caring for his autistic sister on Alcatraz Island (Al Capone); Stanley, who escapes from a juvenile detention camp to help another inmate (Holes).… (more)
  3. 00
    Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos (cransell)
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    Hidden Talents by David Lubar (Runa)
    Runa: Misfit kids bond after being sent away from home to a reform program.
  5. 01
    The Afterlife by Gary Soto (weener)
  6. 23
    Savvy by Ingrid Law (kimby365)
    kimby365: I can't guarantee that you'll enjoy that book if you enjoyed this one, but I'd say it's a pretty safe bet.
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1990s (63)

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» See also 349 mentions

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trade copy in good condition
  murfman | Jun 29, 2022 |
While this indicates a 2020 read date, I read it before and read it every year since then.
rincess and the Scrivener's Youtube reaction to the book and movie is fantastic. They had a guest on their channel for the review, too, and all of them examined the book and movie thoroughly. This book was ahead of its time in a lot of ways, and I delighted reading it a lot as a kid, and now. As always, I understand it totally different as an adult. It's a profound social commentary about something that is done to this day: forcing kids to do labor in inhumane conditions instead of sticking them in juvenile hall, and all the people involved, from the judge to the warden-figure, get payoffs. In this case, digging holes that are just short of graves in hundred-degree heat, for eighteen months solid. This book has three stories in one: that of the children who were tricked into going to Camp Green Lake, which is not a camp but a massive dried-up lake bed where the children are forced to dig the aforementioned holes; the story of the main character's grandfather from several generations back, who the family blames for their current grinding poverty; and that of Sam and Kate, a couple who lived in the town of Green Lake back when it was still a lake, and this was in a time where interracial couples were punished with death. The three stories wove in and out of each other skillfully and moved the plot along smoothly. The world-building was really good. I liked the style in which this book was written. I eagerly went to see the movie in theaters when it first came out, and thought the movie was great. I was irritated that Stanley wasn't fat, as he is in the book, until I found out years later that it was a deliberate casting decision the author supported. He wrote the screenplay for the movie, even. I remember being shocked as a kid to discover this was the same guy who wrote the Sideways School series, and then there's this much darker and more mature book. One is for elementary-school children. This is for high-schoolers. Sachar is a skilled writer. I'm glad this is so widely appreciated. ( )
  iszevthere | Jun 25, 2022 |
I loved this book so much as a kid. I think I read it for the first time in fourth grade and reread it several times into middle school. With its nonlinear narrative, flashing back and forth in time between the main story featuring present-day Stanley Yelnats, his no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather, and the origin story of wild west outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow, Holes was probably the most complex book I had read up to that point. I was hooked. Just look at my favorites "shelf" and you'll see that many of them have similarly complex narrative structures.

Holes is a propulsive adventure story, not something you'd probably expect when the main character has been falsely convicted of theft sent to a juvenile labor camp to dig one 5x5x5 foot hole a day "reform his character". This isn't Hogwarts, where overweight Stanley finally makes good friends; the camp is clearly not even trying to help his fellow inmates, many of whom--it is implied--have unaddressed mental health and behavioral issues. The adults are little better, having found a refuge for their own issues in a place that lets them bully people less powerful than they are with impunity.

Sachar balances the bits that could get boring by telling us those two other stories. There's the fairy tale-like story of the Yelnats family curse, brought down upon them when Stanley's great-great grandfather fails to fulfill a promise made to a wise woman in exchange for her help wooing the local beauty. The curse echoes through the generations, snatching away any the few scraps of luck the Yelnats family manages to achieve. And there's the story of Katherine Barlow, a lovely teacher in a lovely town on the edge of Green Lake, Texas, who makes the mistake of falling for a lovely local onion seller who happens to be Black--in the 19th century. Their doomed romance triggers Barlow's transformation, along with the transformation of Green Lake into a barren desert.

Holes also tackles a lot of social issues--the failures of the justice system, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, bullying, racism, abusive authority figures--without ever feeling preachy or weighted down by exposition and explanation.

The plot probably sounds like quite a tangle, but all three of these stories balance each other out. Sachar sprinkles the stories from the past throughout the monotonous months when Stanley does little more than dig his one hole a day, keeping the reader engaged. It certainly stretched my brain the first time I read it. My first reread was also my first experience making new connections and discoveries despite having read the book before.

Holes is so engaging that I never felt talked down to even though I'm now in my 30s. "Fun for the whole family" is such a trite phrase, but I do believe this is a book that a whole family could enjoy reading together. It would have been a great one to read to my sisters and the captive audience of my parents while driving around out west, as I did with the Harry Potter series and Ella Enchanted--though I can't remember if I did.

For the record, I felt the film adaptation of Holes was one of the best book-to-movie conversions ever made, remaining sleek, capturing the humor, sticking close to the story. Just maybe a bit too cheery and upbeat compared to the original.

Again, highly recommended.

Quote Roundup

p. 59) He guessed he'd lost at least five pounds. He figured that in a year and a half he'd be either in great physical condition, or else dead.
My biggest beef with the film adaptation is that Stanley isn't shown overweight, as he is in the book. There aren't enough depictions in books and films of kids who are big who aren't made into jokes. Stanley never becomes skinny, just fit. The two are far from mutually exclusive.

p. 82) He needed to save his energy for people who counted. ... His muscles and hands weren't the only parts of his body that had toughened over the past several weeks. His heart had hardened as well.
I totally forgot this aspect of Stanley's character development. Following the lead of the toxic councilors and the other kids, Stanley turns into a pretty big jerk--even if never to the level of the bullies who actively tormented him. Sachar makes a pretty good implied point about how the environment--physical and emotional--that we're in can shape our personalities.

p. 123) Kate smiled. There was nothing they could do to her anymore. "Start digging," she said.
Mic drop. Mwahahaha.

p. 161) "I wonder who she was," said Zero.
"Mary Lou," said Zero.
Stanley smiled. "I guess she was once a real person on a real lake. It's hard to imagine."
"I bet she was pretty," said Zero. "Somebody must have loved her a lot, to name a boat after her."
"Yeah," said Stanley. "I bet she looked great in a bathing suit, sitting in the boat while her boyfriend rowed."
Mary Lou was a donkey!

p. 186) Two nights later, Stanley lay awake staring up at the star-filled sky. He was too happy to fall asleep.
He knew he had no reason to be happy. He had heard or read somewhere that right before a person freezes to death, he suddenly feels nice and warm. He wondered if perhaps he was experiencing something like that.
It occurred to him that he couldn't remember the last time he felt happiness. It wasn't just being sent to Camp Green Lake that had made his life miserable. Before that he'd been unhappy at school, where he had no friends, and bullies like Derrick Dunne picked on him. No one liked him, and the truth was, he didn't especially like himself.
He liked himself now.
He wondered if he was delirious.
*Internal sniff.* I'm not "aww"-ing, you are!
( )
  books-n-pickles | May 17, 2022 |
I’ve had Holes on my TBR list for many years, ever since it was my son’s favorite book when he was around middle school age. I’d been curious as to why it attracted a reluctant reader like him and why he loved it and the movie so much. It may have taken me a long time to get around to reading it, but I’m glad I finally did. Now I understand why my son was so enamored with it. It’s the story of Stanley Yelnats who believes that his family is cursed because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. Whether they’re actually cursed is up for debate, but they’ve certainly had a run of bad luck, the most recent of which is Stanley being falsely accused of stealing a valuable pair of sneakers. The judge gives him the choice of going to jail or going to Camp Green Lake, a boy’s reform camp. Stanley chooses the camp, thinking it will be the better of the two options, but at camp he quickly discovers that every day each boy is required to dig a hole that is exactly five feet in diameter and five feet deep. The people who run the camp say it builds character, but when he finds a small gold tube, he quickly realizes that the Warden and her cronies are actually looking for something, probably something valuable. Along the way, Stanley also makes friends with a loner nicknamed Zero, whom he teaches how to read. The two boys help each other out, and eventually through a series of misadventures, they finally discover exactly what the Warden is up to.

Stanley’s family may be cursed but they’re genuinely good people if a bit eccentric. His mom is encouraging, always insisting the curse is just a myth, while his dad is something of a mad scientist, always trying to invent one thing or another. His latest idea is finding a way to recycle old sneakers. So when a pair of shoes falls from the sky, hitting Stanley on the head, he decides to take them home to his dad. Little did he know, though, that the shoes actually belonged to a famous baseball player and that they were going to be auctioned off to benefit a homeless shelter. Of course, the authorities don’t believe Stanley’s story, which is how he finds himself in hot water and doing time at Camp Green Lake. Stanley is a really good kid, though. In spite of initially being slower than all the other boys, he manages to dig his hole every day without complaint, even though it’s hard work in the hot Texas desert. He writes a letter to his mom every week, mostly telling her stories about his time “at camp” so she won’t worry about him. He also tries to be nice to the other boys, eventually befriending Zero, the kid no one else seems to care much about. Zero can’t read but wants to learn, so they make a deal for Stanley to teach him. Eventually they become the best of friends. I think that Stanley exhibited courage and bravery in a number of different circumstances, which showed the kind of person he really is.

This book is generally aimed at middle graders, and I felt that overall the content was mostly appropriate for its audience. However, your mileage may vary, and there were a few things that might be concerning to some parents. The boys at Camp Green Lake are essentially being used for greedy ends. The camp personnel sometimes mistreat the boys in other ways as well, and there’s one scene where a couple of the boys get into a fight. There is one use of a mild profanity and an adult character engages in brief incidental smoking. There are some flashbacks to events of the past that could be somewhat traumatic depending on the sensitivity of the child. In one of these scenes, the lynching of a black man occurs, along with the killing of an innocent animal, and another character murders someone in cold blood in response to this extrajudicial killing. This character then goes on to become an infamous outlaw, reportedly stealing and killing other people. This is all the concerning content I can think of, and most of it is rendered in such a way that it’s fairly matter-of-fact, without lingering over details too much. Therefore, I think the book would be fine for most middle graders as long as they wouldn’t be overly sensitive to any of the things I mentioned. And there are plenty of positives about the story that would make it good for kids to read such as the themes of friendship and loyalty, and there is some humor to the story as well.

I’m really glad that I finally got around to checking out Holes. It’s the winner of the Newberry Medal, the National Book Award, and many other accolades. For that reason and the fact that it had caught the attention of my reluctant reader son, I had high hopes that it would be a good story, and it truly was. Since it’s not aimed at adults, there’s a certain simplicity in the writing, but at the same time, it tells a fairly complex story that should keep kids on their toes. I enjoyed some of the flashbacks to the past, as we get to learn about Stanley’s family history. Initially it only seems to be filling in the blanks on how the Yelnats family became cursed, but eventually everything comes full circle, connecting to the events of the present. I always try to judge kid’s books on, not only how I react to them as an adult, but how I might have felt about them as a kid myself. I honestly believe that even though this story might appeal more to boys because of the male protagonists and adventurous storyline that my kid self probably would have approved if it had been around when I was growing up and I’d had a chance to read it then. It’s a really fun story full of adventure, mystery, the bonds of friendship, and a little dark humor. I highly recommend it, especially for reluctant readers who just might enjoy it as much as my own son did. It was my first read by Louis Sachar, but it’s left me looking forward to checking out the sequel, Small Steps, as well as his other work. ( )
  mom2lnb | May 12, 2022 |
Amusing and fun. ( )
  fuzzipueo | Apr 24, 2022 |
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To Sherrie, Jessica, Lori, Kathleen, and Emily
And to Judy Allen, a fifth-grade teacher from whom we all can learn
First words
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole everyday in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
It was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.
But everyone makes mistakes. You may have done some bad things, but that doesn't mean you're a bad kid.
His muscles and hands weren’t the only parts of his body that had toughened over the past several weeks. His heart had hardened as well.
It felt good to walk in the shade of the two oak trees. Stanley wondered if this was how a condemned man felt on his way to the electric chair – appreciating all of the good things in life for the last time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish between Louis Sachar's original novel Holes (1998), and other variants of the same or related material. Thank you.
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As further evidence of his family's bad fortune which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself.

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Book description
Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys' detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys "build character" by spending all day, every day, digging holes. It doesn't take long for Stanley to realize there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment--and redemption.
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