September 14

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc
Louis Sachar’s Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.

When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He’s miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: “Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13).”

However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can’t read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley’s reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn’t have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.

“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero.  “Just to read.  I don’t have anybody to write to.”
“Sorry,” Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden’s for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn’t been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero’s act soften’s Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.

The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It’s just changed into a different kind of hardness–he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  “‘Why can’t I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'” he asked.  “What’s wrong with that?” (139)

Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.

August 22

Holes by Louis Sachar Review

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

I remember that Holes was popular when I was a teenager but it just didn’t interest me enough to try to read it at the time. Left to my own devices, I still probably wouldn’t have picked it up for myself.  Surprisingly the story has a lot of elements to it that I’ve always enjoyed–magic, friendship, a historical timeline–at least part of the time, and society values and perspectives, mixed in a modern, realistic world, or what was modern when the book was published. I am a multi-genre lover after all.

Their weren’t really any surprises anywhere in this book for me. But I can’t say whether or not all of it was because I picked up on the clues, I’m too old for the book, or because I have very vague memories of listening to six or seven book reports on the book as a child.

Stanley is an interesting character–not something I normally ran into at that age. He’s heavy and tall, which gave him the nickname of “Caveman” while at Camp Green Lake. However he is bullied in school, and by a kid smaller than him…a fact that confuses his teachers. He starts with low confidence but slowly finds his voice and who he is at Camp Green Lake, despite the degrading circumstances he finds himself in. It’s a coming of age story that feels realistic. Some of the stuff stretched the coincidental line.  I would rather have seen Stanley or Zero somehow get out of the mess with the warden and the lizards instead of having both of them saved by a patent lawyer. But, I believe, in the end every character got what they deserved.

The book was a quick read and something I would recommend reading, especially to those around ten or eleven years old.