Holes by Louis Sachar

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Holes by Louis Sachar

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Holes is a quirky, individual little book that can be read by children and adults alike. Part mystery, part coming-of-age, part situation comedy and with top-drawer writing, it has something to appeal to everyone. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: March 2001
Publisher: Collins Educational
ISBN: 0007114516

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy. That what was what some people thought.

Is that what you think? I'm so not sure. The palindromic Stanley Yelnats, in any case, is not a bad boy. Victim of a miscarriage of justice, Stanley has been sent to Camp Green Lake. Stanley is from a poor family and he's never spent a summer at camp before. But, while thousands of other young Americans are having fun, Stanley is digging holes at a juvenile correction centre. Camp Green Lake isn't fun. Digging holes that are precisely five feet wide, five feet long and five feet deep isn't fun either. Up at 4.30am, the boys at Green Lake must each dig such a hole, out in the heat of the desert, before he can return to camp and rest. It's thirsty, exhausting work. And Stanley does wonder what good it does in rehabilitating Green Lake's young inmates. But he does his best. He does his best to fit in, too although it is difficult, and although no one believes in his innocence.

There are no fences at Camp Green Lake. The doors aren't locked at night. Fear contains these boys. Fear of the yellow-spotted lizard, "You don't want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard. You will die a slow and painful death. Always." Fear of the desert, "We've got the only water for a hundred miles. You want to run away? You'll be buzzard food in three days." Fear of the Warden, an elegant, manicured woman with who paints her fingernails with the venom of a rattlesnake. So Stanley, the innocent inmate, doesn't waste his time in devising plans of escape. He observes quietly, and tries to get by as best he can. Soon, it is obvious to Stanley that character building is not the only reason behind the digging of all these holes. What is it the Warden is looking for? It's certainly not redemption for the boys in her care. What is she hoping they will find? And why are there so many strange coincidences?

Running in counterpoint to Stanley's woeful time at the camp is an alternative narrative that goes back in time to the days of Kissin' Kate Barlow, feared outlaw. Kissin' Kate is also a victim of circumstance. She embarked upon a mixed-race relationship and the townsfolk murdered her lover. She spent the rest of her life exacting revenge. Kissin' Kate lived at Green Lake too, but way back then Green Lake was a lake. Since her lover's murder, no rain has fallen, and the lake has become the desert in which Stanley must dig. As the dual stories begin to converge, Stanley's questions begin to be answered.

I guess you could call Holes a great big tall story. It's certainly wrapped like that. Part comic delivery, part mystery story, part rumination on the justice system, part larger-than-life fable, it's a fabulous little book. According to the back cover The Independent on Sunday said, "There is not one false sentence." They were quite right. Louis Sachar has an admirable writing style, full of short sentences, accurate vocabulary and a wonderfully dry wit. Holes is spattered with the kind of delightfully surreal fatalism you find in the work of the Beat writer Richard Brautigan. It has a life-enhancing optimism which reminds me of such books as The Little Prince and Jonathon Livingstone Seagull. And it has the lightness of heart, deftness of touch and laugh-out-loud humour of Jim Dodge in Fup. Scenes in Holes remind me vividly of scenes in Catch 22 . And yet... it's a children's book.

It's not just for children, though. Holes is that rare thing: a book which has found approval from critics, adults and children alike. I found it irresistible. So did my mother. So did my husband. And so did just about every reviewer out there. And if that weren't enough, it won the Newbery Medal. Its wonderfully abrupt prose made it easy enough for my son, aged eight but reading a couple of years ahead, to enjoy thoroughly. That same pointed style made it a breeze to read aloud to my younger son, aged six. He was able to appreciate the jokes and enjoy second-guessing the mystery. So it's suitable for the young ones. Yet the maturity of the sentiments and the poker-faced, humorous way of making serious points that Sachar has, made Holes an equally enjoyable read for my nieces, aged twelve and fourteen when I bought it for them. I think it would be perfect also for the older reluctant reader. Holes is one of those wonderful books which create a domino effect. When you read it, you like it so much that you buy it for someone else, and they like it so much they buy it for someone else. They like it so much they buy it for someone else, and so on.

The more cynical of adults may perhaps be left very slightly unfulfilled by the unashamed happy ending, but those of us who like to be touched will join with the children - who always like to see justice served - and not mind at all. It's a joyous two hundred and thirty-three pages, and you should read it.

If you like this book, you'll really love Fup by Jim Dodge. We also have a review of Sachar's The Cardturner.

Booklists.jpg Holes by Louis Sachar is in the Top Ten Quirky Kids' Books.

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Buy Holes by Louis Sachar at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holes by Louis Sachar at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Holes by Louis Sachar at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holes by Louis Sachar at Amazon.com.


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kidsteeth said:

Review is too long. personally I found this book boring. However my 12 year old - who read it as a set text at school - liked it enough to look for the sequel.

gpcox said:

Review is too long and does not have the main points in. The book is great to read but a little boring in parts.

pierre allsop said:

It is very gd we are reading it at school and watching the movie. I have seen the movie before and i really like the story.

jamie_boy_26 said:

a good reveiw

Jack Dean said:

The book review is very long but the book and movie are very good.

Edward Streamer said:

Personally i think that the book is not the best i have every read, but still it is ok. all my friends may like the book but i stand by that it has too many twists!!

softballstarr09 said:

This is the best book! everyone who says it is bad should read it again more closely.

keerthika said:

I love this HOLES story very much. I enjoy reading this book.