(A Book Review of Louis Sachar’s Holes)
Welcome to Camp Green Lake!
Only it’s not the kind of lake or the sort of camp you have in mind. It’s a dry, flat wasteland and it’s a boys’ juvenile detention center. Definitely that doesn’t spell F-U-N.
Being at Camp Green Lake means you’ve been in an awful lot of trouble and Stanley Yelnats had the bad luck to run into a mess. Well, truth be told, generations of Yelnatses have a knack when it comes to trouble. You see, they’re under a curse — a curse that began with Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.
Now Stanley is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where he got to spend all day, everyday, digging holes precisely five feet wide and five feet deep to build character. But there seems to be more than digging holes and character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried in a dried up lake? That’s where the fun stars as we along with Stanley and his bunch of merry friends at Tent D find out and dig up the truth.
Overweight and unpopular, Stanley Yelnats is introduced as the total loser; the pathetic kid who have no friends. And to make thing worse he was wrongly accused for a crime he didn’t even commit. Now tell me, who wouldn’t feel that his life is cursed given the rotten luck that Stanley has been through? These are things that make him convincing, that normal kids can relate to and what I like about Stanley’s character. He is no hero-type or an extraordinary kid pitted against extraordinary circumstances. But throughout the novel Stanley uplifts himself up and along with friends shine through.
Another thing that got me intrigued with Stanley is his name. Examine it: Stanley Yelnats. YES! His name is a palindrome which basically is a word or phrase that reads the same in both directions. This got me thinking: now why Sachar would give his character (characters actually since the name is passed down from generation to generation for every boy born in the family) such an inventive word play for a name? The answer lies in the word palindrome itself which came from the Greek “palindromos” that means “running back again.” Interweaving events from the past and present shifts and after you’ve read the book this “running back again” perspective comes to light as Sachar’s inventive patterns of language and narrative ties all it all up. The great wheel of justice has ground slowly for generations, but now it is about to reveal its verdict. The irony and dark humor of the stories within the story finally come together making the point that although fate seemed always to be against Stanley, his convoluted history proves otherwise.
What I like about this novel is its cunning, crafty simplicity. Memorable characters, a good gradual plot that’s engaging as piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, and Sachar’s straight, right on, humorous narrative makes this a compelling read. Stanley’s miserable existence in the face of such circumstances is brilliantly portrayed, in plain and simple prose with no unnecessary embellishments. The author makes you feel the blistering heat and sheer exhaustion in a seemingly effortless fashion, which makes for a delightfully easy read. This is fuss-free writing, where every necessary word is in place and nothing more.
At the core of the novel is the significance of the symbolism of holes. The holes are a negative aspect at Camp Green Lake. Throughout the novel it is even compared to a grave and Stanley even entertained the thought that digging a hole is like digging a grave. In the holes prowls rattle snakes, scorpions, and the deadly yellow-spotted lizards (One bite then your done for! Yikes!) For the boys at the camp, they hate digging holes as this indicate the punishment they must go through as long as they bid their time at the camp, that’s why they spit in them, see. Even the path leading to the Warden’s cabin is festooned with holes, which for me indicates a trap. For Stanley, the hole represents his undoing, misdeeds he’s done (along with those he didn’t) that destiny playfully determined. The novel also speaks in an eloquent and subtle subtext of a hole that is left in one’s life when one important part of your life is lost. Ultimately, the way the novel is presented is metaphorically filled with holes that must be filled in for the story to be resolved. Yet I guarantee there’s nary a loophole in the plot. Ha ha!
The novel ends with this charming lullaby (that plays an important part in the story), a mother’s love song encouraging her child to use the past to move boldly into the future.
“If only, if only, the moon speaks no reply;
Reflecting the sun and all that’s gone by.
Be strong my weary wolf, turn around boldly.
Fly high my baby bird,
My angel, my only.”
Holes is an unusually sweet and tragic at times book. Charming, dark, and magical, Holes is a marvelous novel, constructed well, with every word leading the readers to a most satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend this entertaining novel!
Published by Holt Rinehart and Winston
(Hardcover, HRW Library, January 2004)
Started: August 30, 2010
Finished: September 1, 2010