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“Holes” still holds up after 25 years

The critically acclaimed young adult novel “Holes,” written by Louis Sachar is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. First published in August 1998, the book has been received positively from readers of all ages and has won numerous awards for its captivating story and contribution to children’s literature.

The main plot follows Stanley Yelnats, a fourteen year old boy whose poor family is constantly cursed with bad luck. One day he is falsely convicted of stealing a pair of shoes from his favorite athlete and is sent away to a juvenile correction center, located in a desolate desert environment known as Camp Green Lake. Joined by other boys his age, Stanley is forced to dig holes in the ground as a way to supposedly “build character,” when in reality there is a much larger mystery hidden underneath. 

Each boy that Stanley meets has their own unique nickname that not only gives a glimpse into their character, but also serves to dissociate themselves from the outside world. Despite how harshly they treat Stanley in the beginning, they eventually grow together and bond despite their struggles. A particular standout is the relationship between Stanley and Zero, in which Stanley teaches Zero how to read. Later on, the two boys find out they have underlying connections that become highly relevant to the overall story.

The narrative is kept engaging as it shifts its focus from events in the present to events in the past, yet it never becomes confusing or hard to follow, which is commendable for a book geared toward younger audiences. The book was also not afraid to challenge younger readers, touching on themes such as redemption and racism.

In one of the perspective shifts, more background is given to the location of Camp Green Lake, one hundred years prior to Stanley arriving. Katherine Barlow, the town’s school teacher, falls in love with Sam, an onion farmer. Because Katherine is white and Sam is Black, the town ensues a riot that results in the death of Sam and the burning of the school house. The resulting incident is implied to have cursed Green Lake, causing it to dry up. The devastation it causes Katherine is what leads her into becoming a feared outlaw. 

Another one of the perspective shifts revolves around Elya Yelnats, who is Stanley’s great-great grandfather. Elya is unable to keep a promise towards an elder fortune teller, who ends up cursing the Yelnats family for all eternity. Elya is often used as a scapegoat for Stanley’s bad luck, but his growth as a character comes from how he no longer uses his family’s past mistake as a crutch, and is able to stand up to Camp Green Lake’s corrupt authority for the sake of his fellow prisoners. 

Following the success of the novel are two spinoff books, “Stanley Yelnats Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake” in 2003 and “Small Steps” in 2006. It has also received a 2003 film adaptation directed by Andrew Davis. “Holes” remains a timeless and nostalgic novel to this day, providing an engaging overarching story for any age.


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