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Holes    by Louis Sachar order for
by Louis Sachar
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2000 (1998)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Poor Stanley. He's overweight and from a poor family, cursed generations back by a gypsy, so that its members always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They blame their persistent bad luck on a 'no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather'. His dad says 'I learn from failure', which is just as well, since his inventions all veer away from success.

Consistent with the family fortune, a pair of old smelly sneakers fall out of the sky and hit Stanley. He is convicted of stealing them and sent to Camp Green Lake, a Juvenile Correction Facility in the Texas desert. This is the antithesis of its name, a dry flat wasteland where young offenders are sent in the mistaken belief that if 'you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.' The boys dig holes, measured by their spades, seven days a week.

Stanley's fellow diggers have names like Squid, X-ray, Armpit and Zero, and they call him Caveman. The boys are at risk from rattlesnake and scorpion bites, but their greatest peril comes from toxic yellow-spotted lizards and from the venomous Warden, a true villainess. Stanley befriends Zero and teaches him to read. He follows him when Zero runs away, and carries him up a mountain. This finally fulfills a promise broken by Stanley's infamous great-great-grandfather.

There is a symmetry to this story, that makes it a tremendously satisfying read. Present actions complete a cycle and provide some compensation for past wrongs, including the historical ones that turned a lovely lakeside town into a wasteland and connected Caveman's family with Green Lake's outlaw schoolteacher, Kissin' Kate Barlow.

Stanley Yelnats is an unlikely hero, who prevails through endurance and friendship (along with a taste for onions), and there is much more to Zero than his name suggests. Their story, Holes, is an excellent read, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1999. I highly recommend it.

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