Reviews for Holes
Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 June 1998
Gr. 6^-9. Middle-schooler Stanley Yelnats is only the latest in a long line of Yelnats to encounter bad luck, but Stanley's serving of the family curse is a doozie. Wrongfully convicted of stealing a baseball star's sneakers, Stanley is sentenced to six months in a juvenile-detention center, Camp Green Lake. "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake," where Stanley and his fellow campers (imagine the cast from your favorite prison movie, kid version) must dig one five-by-five hole in the dry lake bed every day, ostensibly building character but actually aiding the sicko warden in her search for buried treasure. Sachar's novel mixes comedy, hard-hitting realistic drama, and outrageous fable in a combination that is, at best, unsettling. The comic elements, especially the banter between the boys (part scared teens, part Cool Hand Luke wanna-bes) work well, and the adventure story surrounding Stanley's rescue of his black friend Zero, who attempts to escape, provides both high drama and moving human emotion. But the ending, in which realism gives way to fable, while undeniably clever, seems to belong in another book entirely, dulling the impact of all that has gone before. These mismatched parts don't add up to a coherent whole, but they do deliver a fair share of entertaining and sometimes compelling moments. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 1999
With great finesse Sachar tells an exceptionally funny, and heart-rending, shaggy dog story. Stanley Yelnats is sent to a boys' detention facility, where, it turns out, he has a date with destiny that involves his pig-stealing great-great-grandfather, a family curse, the ruthless outlaw Kissing Kate Barlow, some peaches, some onions, a lullaby, and a pair of sneakers. We haven't seen a book with this much plot, so suspensefully and expertly deployed, in too long a time. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1998 #5
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 forty-five 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 misadven-ture 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, n e 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. r.s. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 1998 June
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, 1995, etc.). 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. (Fiction. 11-15) Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2000 May #3
PW's starred review of the 1999 Newbery Medal winner described it as a "dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism." Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 July #4
This wry and loopy novel about a camp for juvenile delinquents in a dry Texas desert (once the largest lake in the state) by the author of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom and the Wayside School series has some serious undercurrents. Stanley Yelnats (appropriately enough for a story about reversals, the protagonist's name is a palindrome) gets sent to Camp Green Lake to do penance, "a camp for bad boys." Never mind that Stanley didn't commit the crime he has been convicted of he blames his bad luck on his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." He digs five-foot-deep holes with all the other "bad" boys under the baleful direction of the Warden, perhaps the most terrifying female since Big Nurse. Just when it seems as though this is going to be a weird YA cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cool Hand Luke, the story takes off along with Stanley, who flees camp after his buddy Zero in a wholly unexpected direction to become a dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism. Readers (especially boys) will likely delight in the larger-than-life (truly Texas-style) manner in which Sachar fills in all the holes, as he ties together seemingly disparate story threads to dispel ghosts from the past and give everyone their just deserts. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews
School Library Journal Reviews 1999 September
Gr 4-7-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 (FS&G, 1998) 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.
School Library Journal Reviews 1999 August
Gr 4-6-By Louis Sachar. With all of the bad luck his family has encountered, Stanley isn't so surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a harsh juvenile detention center. While the warden claims that the hard labor that the boys are subjected to is meant to build character, it becomes clear that she is really using the boys to hunt for a fortune buried by a Wild West outlaw. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 1998 September
Gr 5-8-Stanley Yelnats IV has been wrongly accused of stealing a famous baseball player's valued sneakers and is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention home where the boys dig holes, five feet deep by five feet across, in the miserable Texas heat. It's just one more piece of bad luck that's befallen Stanley's family for generations as a result of the infamous curse of Madame Zeroni. Overweight Stanley, his hands bloodied from digging, figures that at the end of his sentence, he'll "...either be in great physical condition or else dead." Overcome by the useless work and his own feelings of futility, fellow inmate Zero runs away into the arid, desolate surroundings and Stanley, acting on impulse, embarks on a risky mission to save him. He unwittingly lays Madame Zeroni's curse to rest, finds buried treasure, survives yellow-spotted lizards, and gains wisdom and inner strength from the quirky turns of fate. In the almost mystical progress of their ascent of the rock edifice known as "Big Thumb," they discover their own invaluable worth and unwavering friendship. Each of the boys is painted as a distinct individual through Sachar's deftly chosen words. The author's ability to knit Stanley and Zero's compelling story in and out of a history of intriguing ancestors is captivating. Stanley's wit, integrity, faith, and wistful innocence will charm readers. A multitude of colorful characters coupled with the skillful braiding of ethnic folklore, American legend, and contemporary issues is a brilliant achievement. There is no question, kids will love Holes.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews
VOYA Reviews 1998 December
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 detaineemust 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 andultimately 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. Mary Ann Capan. Copyright 1998 Voya Reviews