Deemed “larger-than-life” by Publishers Weekly, Louis Sachar’s Holes is the story of Stanley Yelnats and his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.

Originally published as a fiction mystery for children and young adults, Holes is a satirical journey that deals with the themes of family, greed and redemption, among others. Its success has earned it the Newbery and National Book Awards and a Walt Disney film adaptation of the same name.

After accidentally stealing the shoes of baseball star Clyde Livingston, Stanley is sent to do time at Camp Green Lake, a site with no lake and hardly anything that’s green. Here Stanley spends most of his time digging five-by-five foot holes in the company of several other teens and a group of condescending adults. The idea is to build character, but it doesn’t take Stanley long to find out they’re digging for something a bit more substantial.

George Amaru / Art Director

George Amaru / Art Director

Told in three parts, the book shifts between Stanley’s incarceration at Camp Green Lake, his great-great-grandfather’s life in Latvia and outlaw Kate Barlow’s time in the town of Green Lake 110 years before Stanley’s arrival. The connections between these stories are bridged over time and accentuated at the end of the novel through Stanley’s desire to save his campmate Zero. According to the story’s fictional history, Kate Barlow stole a great deal of money from the son of Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather. She was also known to have robbed several Texas banks and have hidden the funds from these robberies somewhere in the town of Green Lake. Starting to get the picture?

The book is fragmented into 50 short chapters that are carried mostly by witty dialogue and a somewhat sardonic humor. It is through this humor that Sachar gives Holes its satirical appeal, often playing off the irony of situations to display their absurdity. This type of literal humor is also present in the dialogue (Sachar helped himself out there by giving his characters nicknames like Barf Bag and Armpit). The adults in the piece are often prone to speaking in patronizing fashions or speaking with the mere intent to state the obvious. Even the Warden, the director of and the only known female presence at Camp Green Lake, is only occasionally excused from this structure, which is ironic since her authority over the rest of Camp Green Lake gives her the most authority to speak in this way.

Also worth noting is Sachar’s use of repetition throughout the story, both with phrases and with individual words. Repeated sayings like “the [first, second, third…] hole is always the hardest” give gravity to Stanley’s situation while reminding the reader of the tedium of everyday life and the irony of slaving for the profit of someone else. A lullaby is also repeated throughout the novel, changing slightly at certain times based on the generation and lineage of the person reciting it.

Although it is categorized as a comedic youth mystery, don’t let age keep you from reading Holes. Its dark humor and curious characters are sure to make you enjoy yourself, or at least help you see things just a little differently.

Max Blanchette can be contacted at

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