Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Monday, May 7, 2012

Plot Summary:
If it wasn't for Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten-pig stealing-great-great-grandfather, he wouldn't be at Camp Green Lake. Accused of stealing  the legionary's Sweet Feet Livingston's from a homeless shelter, Stanley is sentenced to dig holes in the former lake known as Green Lake. The moment he arrived, Stanley knew this wasn't going to be like any regular summer camp, especially learning that the bunk he is now occupying belonged to a boy nicknamed Barf Bag. Under the guidance of his counselor, Mr. Pendanski, Stanley and the other boys are forced to wake up at 4:30 a.m., eat breakfast, and set off to the dry lake to dig holes. Although Stanley doesn't understand why he has to dig, he is struggling with the fact that as an overweight boy with soft hands, this whole experience was going to be excruciatingly painful. After surviving his first hole, Stanley is inducted, and given his honorary nickname, to the Camp Green Lake crew where he meets: X-Ray (the leader), Armpit, Zig Zag, Magnet, Squid, and Zero. Stanley (aka. Caveman) isn't quite sure about these guys, but, when he finds the gold trinket in his hole, he gives it to X-Ray so he can have a day off; thus, staying on X-Ray's good side. However, the day he dug up that item, life at Camp Green Lake had changed for the worst when Magnet stole Mr. Sir's sunflower seed bag, which got the the Warden involved. Despite the four-minute cold showers and never ending heat, Stanley befriends Zero who is not only a mystery, but is totally misunderstood by everyone just like Stanley. What readers don't realize is that this friendship is the key to undoing Camp Green Lake but reveal a hidden past.

Critical Evaluation:
I am so glad that I re-read Holes. I could not, whatsoever, put this book down because it absolutely brilliant. In fact, I read a loud three chapters to my boyfriend, a non reader, and he seemed interested in hearing more. Readers will not only enjoy the story, they will laugh a lot and be utterly surprised by the ending. The greatest aspect of this story is Stanley's character development where he evolves from a meek, overweight boy to a confident, strong young man. I also love the villains. The Warden and Mr. Sir are the stereotypical dim witted adults who are not only out smarted by two tweens, but get their "just desserts" in the end. As for X-ray and company, they are also great examples of boys who are trying to play tough when they are really just as scared and lonely like Stanley. I don't know if it is a male thing where playing the bully is the only way to cope with their problems, but these boys are like any other tween who is looking for his place in this world. 

The part that touched me the most is that Stanley taught Zero how to read and write. Zero is a complete mystery because no one knows anything about him and he doesn't talk much; hence, his terrible nick name. However, Stanley and Zero make a bargain that allows Stanley to get to know this extraordinary boy. One theme that Sachar explores is differences. Since no one bothered to talk, or get to know Zero, they assumed he was an idiot who didn't know anything. However, Zero is a wiz with numbers, but he can't read or write. Stanley is also the only person who knows that Zero was abandoned by his mother and was forced to live on the street most of his life. Despite admitting to Stanley that he is the reason he is at the camp, Stanley does something amazing...he actually tells himself that if Zero had not done what he did, he wouldn't be the person he is now.

Another is a major theme is friendship where those who stick together, survive together. When Stanley went after Zero, not only are we proud of him for his bravery, we are stunned that he would actually take the water truck from Mr. Sir to try and rescue his friend. For Stanley and Zero, their fates are intertwined with the legend of Kissing Kate Barlow and how's his grandfather, Elya's curse, brought him and Zero together in this barren dessert where wild onions, sploosh, and holes are all they need to survive. In fact, they uncovered the past to not only right the wrongs of their ancestors, but bring and end to a tragic story and lots of bad luck. Honestly, Sachar really did do a brilliant job of bringing these three stories together to create a wonderful and satisfying ending that we will never forget. 

Information about the Author:
Louis Sachar was born on March 20, 1954 in East Meadow, New York. In his website, Sachar's father worked on the 78th floor of the Empire State Building. After leaving New York when he was three-years-old, he and his family moved to Tustin, California where he and a bunch of kids who have orange fights, using the oranges from the orange groves as their ammo. According to Sachar, "I enjoyed school and was a good student, but it wasn't until high school that I really became an avid reader. J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut were the authors who first inspired me. Some of my other favorite authors include E.L. Doctorow, Margaret Atwood, E.B White, Richard Price and Kazuo Ishiguro." Sachar attended Antioch College in Ohio, but had to come home to be with mother after the untimely death of his father. He enrolled at the UC Berkley where he majored in Economics, but found his calling when he signed on to be a teacher aide at Hillside Elementary to earn three college credits. Not only was he helping as an aide, he became a noontime supervisor where the kids knew him as as "Louis the Yard Man."

After graduating, Sachar wrote his first children's book, Sideways Stories From Wayside School, which was published while he was attending Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, CA. Although he passed the bar exam, his career as a lawyer was short-lived because his stories made him so popular that he was able to write children's books full time. Sachar married his wife, Carla, in 1985 and his daughter, Sherre, was born in 1987. He currently live in Austin, TX with his wife and dog Watson. According to Sachar "I write every morning, usually for no more than two hours a day. I never talk about a book until it is finished. I spent two years on my latest novel, and nobody, not even Carla or Sherre knew anything about it until it was finished. Then they were the first to read it." Sachar has written over twenty children's titles and his latest book is Small Steps, a riveting sequel to Holes. 

Tween Adventure

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 4-7

Books Similar to Holes:
 Awards & Recognition:
  • 1999 Newbery Medal (1999)
  • 1998 National Book Award for Young People's Literature (1998)
  •  ALA Notable Book  (1998)
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults (1999)
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon Book 
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Publishers Weekly Notable Children's Book of the Year
  • New York Public Library Children's Book of 1998-100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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