Holes by Louis Sachar

A review of the satirical children’s adventure novel Holes by Louis Sachar.

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Holes, written by Louis Sachar, follows young Stanley Yelnats as he tries to make it through his teenage years fighting an ancestral curse. His no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather approached his mystic friend, Madame Zeroni, for help in winning his beloved’s hand in marriage. The no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather must carry a pig up a mountain, let it drink from a stream while he sings to it. If he repeats this every day the pig will grow big and strong and he will be able to gift it to his beloved’s father. When he’s done with that, he was to carry Madame Zeroni up the hill too, so that she could grow strong too. The no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather realises that his beloved doesn’t actually love him, so runs away to America, forgetting to carry Madame Zeroni up the hill. For this, she curses his entire family.

Stanley Yelnats comes from a very hard working family, but the curse continues to afflict them all. They suffer from an endless string of bad luck. One such event involving some shoes that Stanley finds, lands him in a juvenile detention centre, Camp Green Lake. The punishment for the tearaways that end up there is to dig one hole a day out in the desert where the camp resides. It soon becomes clear to Stanley that there may be some reason other than character building why they must dig so many holes. There’s treasure buried out there.

The introduction of the treasure is probably the reason why I love Holes as much as I do. Kate Barlow once lived in the thriving town that once sat atop the desert of Camp Green Lake. She was a loving school teacher who takes the time to get to know the local onion seller, Sam. They develop a relationship that blossoms into love, and then they kiss. There’s just one small problem with this. It’s 19th Century America, Sam is black, Kate is white. Seeing the kiss, the townsfolk form a mob and kill Sam. Kate becomes Kissing Kate Barlow, an outlaw robbing, kissing and killing people. The townsfolk eventually catch her, but she’s buried all of her treasure and kills herself. But she, or some other supernatural force, curses the town for their evil ways and the lake dries up, turning it into a wasteland. The treasure that she buried, the treasure that once belonged to Stanley’s great grandfather, is what the campers are digging for.

There is so much in this book that I enjoyed, like Stanley’s friend Zero and their interlinked lives or the deep and rich backstory of most of the camp workers. It covers so many aspects and topics that it’s bordering on too much, but it does it in such a way that it doesn’t seem preachy. It could easily have become a novel forcing a message down your throat of “racism is bad,” “keep your promises,” “don’t judge a book by its cover,” “be kind to your fellow man,” or “prison isn’t fun.” All of those messages are in the book and more more, but they’re not drummed into you. That alone makes it a good read, but once you take into account the fantastic characters, the great writing and a really rich and engaging plot, you’ve got a book that won some pretty prestigious awards for its contribution to literature.

Holes truly is a great book for everyone, not just the young adult audience it was written for. Disney also made a film with Shia LaBeouf. For a book to film adaptation, it wasn’t bad. Shia does not make a good Stanley if for no other reason than one of the main character points for a few things in the book is that Stanley is quite a large lad, Shia is not. But read the book, then watch the film. I’m sure you’ll enjoy both.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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