1999: Holes (Slave Labor or Amateur Archaeology?)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

Holes, the 1999 Newbery Medal Winner, is a story of curses, growing up, and the connections between people. Like any good adventure tale, there’s also buried treasure and evil pirates  Wardens against whom our heroes are pitted. Louis Sachar, the author, weaves together the threads of several narratives – the present, in which Stanley Yelnats is unfairly forced into a reform camp, and several pasts – to create a cohesive, interesting narrative.

Stanley shares in the family curse of unluckiness. Caused by his great-great-grandfather’s failure to uphold a promise, all subsequent generations have suffered under it. The current Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake after he decides to take home shoes which fell from an overpass. The real thief turns out to be Zero, a fellow camper, who just needed shoes. At the misnamed Camp Green Lake, a desert lake bed, each kid digs a 5′ X 5′ X 5′ hole each day, supposedly for their moral education. Stanley quickly figures out that the Warden is looking for the stolen treasure of the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. His own relative was robbed by the outlaw and mysteriously survived, babbling about Big Thumb.

One thing leads to another, and Zero hits a counselor with a shovel, then runs off. A few days later, Stanley follows him, finding him in the remnants of a boat. The two head for the thumb-shaped mountain, reaching it, water, and onion fields after many travails. They eventually head back to the camp, hoping to burgle some food as well as explore the hole in which Stanley found an artifact marked K.B. The pair dig up a suitcase marked with Stanley’s ancestor’s name, but are held at gunpoint by the Warden and counselors until a lawyer shows up to free Stanley. She takes both the boys and the suitcase with her. It contains a fortune in stock certificates and other materials.  With the curse ended, broken when Stanley carried Zero up the mountain, everyone’s luck turns.

I enjoyed Holes as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid. The interweaving stories, particularly those set in the past, ably capture the societies in which they’re set. From the arranged marriages several generations ago in Latvia, to the dangers of inter-racial relationships in late 1880’s/early 1900’s Texas, Sachar manages to give a sense of the culture in each location despite a limited space in which to do so. The book also emphasizes the importance of building relationships. Stanley, for example, isn’t sorry that Zero’s actions led him to Camp Green Lake because he gained a sense of belonging and learned that he was capable of more than he thought.

This book is great for middle schoolers. It deals with some real issues that they may face, such as bullying, while also providing a very readable, fun adventure. Stanley is a relatable character – he’s never held up as something special, just a kid who makes some decent choices.

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