by Louis Sachar
In A Nutshell
Reading Holes is kind of like putting together one of those giant jigsaw puzzles: there are a zillion little pieces, and you really have no clue how they're all going to fit together. But once you're done, it's so stinkin' satisfying and you just can't believe that it all came together so neatly at the end. Oh, and it's awesome.
Published in 1999, Louis Sachar's Holes almost immediately became the talk of the town – well, the librarians' and children's book experts' town, that is. Hailed by critics as "dazzling," "heartrending," and "wildly inventive," it went on to win a whole slew of children's book prizes, including the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Not too shabby.
All these fancy book awards, of course, wouldn't amount to squat in our book if Holes weren't also a great read. (Shmoop knows that not every book that the critics love is necessarily, um, loveable.) Good news, though: Holes is one terrific story.
The book tells the tale of Stanley Yelnats, a mousy kid whose family is suffering a curse put on them over a hundred years ago by a one-legged gypsy woman. We follow Stanley as he enters a juvenile detention facility called Camp Green Lake, and we watch as he goes from dull to dynamite, overcoming all kinds of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his path. Along the way we get buried treasure, deadly venomous lizards, an outlaw named Kissin' Kate Barlow, and some really stinky sneakers.
But don't just take our word for it: Holes spent more than 150 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List (source). In fact, the book is so popular that author Louis Sachar went on to write two more books set in the world of Camp Green Lake. 2003 saw the publication of Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake, a self-help book detailing all the knowledge necessary for the reader to get by as an inmate of the camp, including the proper way to dig a hole and what to do if you're bitten by a rattlesnake. Then in 2008, Sachar published Small Steps, which focuses on the life of the Holes character Armpit after his return home from Camp Green Lake.
If you're one of those Shmoopers who's a bit wary of movies made from books, don't fear: Sachar himself actually wrote the script for the 2003 movie that was made from this gem. Starring Sigourney Weaver as the scary, obsessed Warden and a very young Shia LaBeouf as Stanley, the movie does quite a nice job translating the book to the big screen.
Ultimately, though, it's the book itself, with its complicated, amazing plot and its endearing, luckless main character, that makes our hearts here at Shmoop go pitter-patter. So read it already, and find out what all the fuss is about.
Why Should I Care?
Do you ever feel like you're at the mercy of forces bigger than yourself? Like no matter what you do, you just can't get ahead?
Stanley Yelnats, the main character of Holes, feels exactly that way, and then some. His entire family is suffering under a curse that was put on them over a hundred years ago, and they can't seem to catch a break. Stanley tries to be hopeful and look on the bright side, but it's pretty clear that he often just doesn't see the point. He's been arrested for a crime he didn't commit, and all he really knows how to do is keep his head down and wait for the next bad thing to happen. Call him Mr. Defeated.
While it's a pretty safe bet that you've never been arrested and hauled off to the desert to provide free labor for a scary, half-crazed, treasure-obsessed, venom-wearing woman, like everyone else who's ever lived, you've probably had your share of disappointments and challenges. It could be that awful math teacher whose lectures you can never quite understand, or the fact that your crush doesn't seem to know you're alive, or even the fact that your poor dad still hasn't been able to find a job six months after he was laid off. Everyone's got worries, and everyone feels helpless sometimes.
Holes is the chronicle of a kid who realizes that his own actions – even when things are looking totally hopeless – can really make a difference. And if that isn't a lesson that everyone should learn, we'll eat a raw onion.