Holes

Holes

4.6 1904
by Louis Sachar, Kerry Beyer
     
 

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As further evidence of his family's bad fortune, which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish boys' juvenile detention center in the Texas desert. As punishment, the boys here must each dig a hole every day, five feet deep and five feet across. Ultimately, Stanley "digs up the truth" -- and through his experience, finds… See more details below

Overview

As further evidence of his family's bad fortune, which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish boys' juvenile detention center in the Texas desert. As punishment, the boys here must each dig a hole every day, five feet deep and five feet across. Ultimately, Stanley "digs up the truth" -- and through his experience, finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself. Winner of the 1998 National Book Award for young people's literature, here is a wildly inventive, darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment -- and redemption.

Editorial Reviews

Parents Choice
Louis Sachar has the ability to see the underside of life from a humorous angle.
Imaginative plotting and memorable charcters make this novel a winner.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With an ever-so-slight Texas twang, Beyer transports listeners to barren, blistering-hot Camp Green Lake, the juvenile correctional facility where Stanley Yelnats is serving a sentence he doesn't deserve. If it weren't for lousy luck, Stanley would have no luck at all--a condition that his family traces to Stanley's "no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather." Stanley toughs out his time with an unflagging sense of humor, considering he and his fellow offenders must each dig a hole five feet wide and five feet deep every day with little water and the constant threat of poisonous lizards. But as Stanley gets into the swing of things, he and his new pal Zero discover that the warden actually has them digging for buried treasure--treasure that is somehow linked to the Yelnats family curse. Beyer's buoyant, boyish manner ensures that Sachar's witty novel, winner of both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, makes a smooth transition to audio. The short chapters breeze along for a thoroughly entertaining listen. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Because of a curse placed on his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats finds himself at Camp Green Lake, a residence for juvenile offenders. Overweight and unlucky, Stanley tries to do his best to fit in and to excel at the camp's one activity: digging holes. Yes, holes. Holes precisely five feet deep by five feet wide all across the godforsaken desert landscape of a dried-out Texas lake. How holes become Stanley's salvation is the meat of this quirky, brink-of surreal story that believably floats between past lives and present realities. Sachar's earlier Wayside School stories always had a Pinkwaterish edge to them, but in Holes he comes fully, brilliantly into his own voice. This is a can't-put-it-down read.
KLIATT
This Newbery Medal winner also swept the other awards as well: National Book Award; an ALA Best Book for YAs; New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year, and more. Here it is now in paperback. As most of you know by now, it is an unusual story that works like a puzzle slowly coming together, each piece more outlandish than the next. Stanley, the main character, is an overweight boy with no friends—like all the other Stanley Yelnats for several generations, he is cursed. In a terrible miscarriage of justice, he is sent to a detention center for delinquent youth, where boys are expected to dig holes all day long (hence the title). How all this is resolved—the family curse, the holes and more—is the stuff of the sometimes-hilarious story. In my opinion, Holes is an excellent children's book, and I have a harder time seeing it as a YA choice; perhaps that is because the lines between children's literature and YA literature are frequently blurry these days. Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1998, Reviewer: Claire Rosser; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
VOYA - Mary Ann Capan
Stanley Yelnats, an underprivileged teen, is wrongly convicted of stealing. Faced with the choice between going to jail or attending Camp Green Lake, Stanley eagerly chooses the camp (something he has never experienced before). When he arrives, Stanley discovers that this juvenile detention center is neither green nor wet-it is in the middle of a desert. The center becomes Stanley's temporary home where he and others live under the most primitive conditions. Seven days a week, each detainee must dig a hole in the dried-up lake bed, five feet wide and five feet deep. According to the warden this builds character, but as the story unfolds, Stanley learns that they are not just digging to find themselves. When one of the boys runs away, Stanley goes after him. At the same time, this fast-paced book also tells the story of Stanley's family from generations ago. By the end, the reader comes to understand how the two stories are intertwined and ultimately resolved because of Stanley's courage and selflessness. This delightfully clever story is well-crafted and thought-provoking, with a bit of a folklore thrown in for good measure. Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal,
School Library Journal
Stanley Yelnats is an unusual hero-dogged by bad luck stemming from an ancient family curse, overweight, and unlikely to stick up for himself when challenged by the class bully. Perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time, Stanley is unfairly sentenced to months of detention at Camp Green Lake (a gross misnomer if ever there was one!) where he's forced to dig one hole in the rock-hard desert soil every day. The hole must be exactly five feet in diameter, the distance from the tip of his shovel to the top of the wooden handle. Each boy is compelled to dig until his hole is completed, no matter how long it takes. According to the warden the digging "builds character." Stanley soon begins to question why the warden is so interested in anything "special" the boys find. How Stanley rescues his friend Zero, who really stole Sweet Feet's tennis shoes, what the warden is desperately looking for, and how the Yelnats curse is broken all blend magically together in a unique coming of age story leavened with a healthy dose of humor. Kerry Beyer's narration of Louis Sachar's Newbery Award-winning novel brings each of the characters vividly to life, and his pensive portrayal of Stanley brings out all that's most appealing about this unlucky loser who becomes a winner by the story's end. A first purchase for all public library collections.-Cindy Lombardo, Orrville Public Library, OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Betsy Hearne
. . .[F]unny. Sachar inserts humor that gives the suspense steep edges. . . .nothing is quite what it seems in this wildly inventive novel.
The New York Times Book Review
Horn Book
Many years ago I heard a long-very long-shaggy dog story involving a couple of grumpy people, a plane, a train, a brick, a dog, and a cigar. It must have gone on for 45 minutes or so, involved several false starts and stops and intense manipulation of the listener, but it was worth it.

Louis Sachar has written an exceptionally funny, and heart-rending, shaggy dog story of his own. With its breadth and ambition, Holes may surprise a lot of Sachar fans, but it shouldn't. With his Wayside School stories and-this reviewer's favorite -- the Marvin Redpost books, Sachar has shown himself a writer of humor and heart, with an instinctive aversion to the expected. Holes is filled with twists in the lane, moments when the action is happily going along only to turn toward somewhere else that you gradually, eventually, sometimes on the last page, realize was the truest destination all along.

The book begins, "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake," and we are immediately led into the mystery at the core of the story: "There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas." We soon learn that there is no camp here either, not really, only a boys' detention facility to which our hero, Stanley Yelnats, is headed. Stanley has been convicted of stealing a pair of shoes donated by baseball great Clyde Livingston to a celebrity auction. The fact that Stanley didn't steal the shoes, that indeed they fell from the sky onto his head, is disbelieved by the judge, and even deemed immaterial by Stanley, who blames the whole misadventure on his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!" -- a favorite family mantra. And as the book goes on to show, with great finesse and a virtuoso's display of circularity in action, Stanley is right. His destiny is as palindromic as his name.

We soon learn about that pig-stealing great-great-grandfather and the curse that has haunted Stanley's family, even though the hapless elder Yelnats, like Stanley, didn't steal anything, and the curse is more of an ordination, a casting of the die. Stanley's great-grandfather found his place in the pattern when he encountered Kissing Kate Barlow, nee Miss Katherine Barlow, who became a ruthless outlaw of the Wild West when her love for Sam, the Onion Man, became cause for small-town opprobrium-and murder. Miss Barlow's recipe for spiced peaches also plays a large part in the story. Heck, it all plays a large part in the story. Those peaches show up more than a century after they were canned, and their efficacy remains unchallenged. Just like Sam's onions. Just like the lullaby, sung, with telling variations, by the Yelnats clan:

"If only, if only," the woodpecker sighs,

"The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies."

While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely, Crying to the moo-oo-oon,"If only, if only."

As for the title: when Stanley gets to Camp Green Lake, he discovers that every day each boy, each inmate, must dig a hole five feet by five feet by five feet. (Why? Too bad you can't ask Kissing Kate Barlow.) Stanley makes a friend, Zero (nicknamed thus because this is exactly what the world finds him to be), with whom he eventually escapes the camp. These boys have a date with destiny and, trust me, it has everything to do with the pig, Kissing Kate, the lullaby, the peaches, the onions...even the sneakers. Sachar is masterful at bringing his realistic story and tall-tale motifs together, using a simple declarative style -- Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said, "You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake." Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before. -- that is all the more poignant, and funny, for its understatement, its willingness to stay out of the way. We haven't seen a book with this much plot, so suspensefully and expertly deployed, in too long a time. And the ending will make you cheer -- for the happiness the Yelnats family finally finds -- and cry, for the knowledge of how they lost so much for so long, all in the words of a lullaby. Louis Sachar has long been a great and deserved favorite among children, despite the benign neglect of critics. But Holes is witness to its own theme: what goes around, comes around. Eventually.

Kirkus Reviews
Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger). Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from.

Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles. Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure.

From the Publisher
A New York Public Library's 100 Great Children's Books 100 Years selection

"A dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism."
Publishers Weekly, Starred

"There is no question, kids will love Holes."—School Library Journal, Starred

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807280713
Publisher:
Listening Library, Inc.
Publication date:
06/01/2004
Edition description:
Unabridged, 3 Cassettes
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 7.41(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Louis Sachar's popular books include There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom and Dogs Don't Tell Jokes.

Read an Excerpt

A darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment, by the author of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom.

Stanley Yelnats's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake - it has been dry for over a hundred years - and it's hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but she is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow. The story of Kissin' Kate, and of a curse put on Stanley's great-great-grandfather by a one-legged Gypsy, weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters - and their forebears - for generations.

With this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has written his best book to date.

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