Louis Sachar's Holes is just about perfect. Maybe it isnít the best book ever written or even the best childrenís book ever written, but itís perfect in that does exactly what it sets out to do Ė tell an exciting childrenís adventure story with profound things to say about prejudice, friendship and loyalty Ė and does it beautifully.
For those who arenít familiar with it (namely adults who donít work with kids or have kids or failed to see any of the ads for the film adaptation of the book), Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats (palindrome intended), a meek, overweight, hopelessly unlucky young boy. His run of bad luck, we learn, dates back to a curse laid upon his ďno-good-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.Ē The latest evidence of this curse occurs when a pair of sneakers belonging to a famous ballplayer fall from the sky one day and hit Stanley on the head. Stanley is blamed for stealing the shoes from a local homeless shelter, which was planning to auction them off at a fundraiser, and gets arrested.
Then, as most twelve-year-olds could probably tell you, Stanley is given the choice between jail and Camp Green Lake. Stanley chooses the latter, one of the great ominous locales in childrenís literature. Camp Green Lake, you see, isnít exactly a camp. There is no lake. And nothing is green for miles around. Itís basically a work camp, where the coolly authoritative Warden (as she is known) and her helpmates Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski make the boys dig one five-foot by five-foot hole every day. They say itís to build character, but Stanley senses something is up.
The bookís genius is that it delicately balances so many elements Ė the camp, Stanleyís history, his friendship with a quiet but thoughtful boy nicknamed Zero, a legendary female bank robber named Kissiní Kate Barlow and a mess of very creepy yellow spotted lizards Ė without anything feeling forced. All the pieces of the story fit together seamlessly. So seamlessly, in fact, that when itís finished, you realize that it couldnít have ended any other way.
Itís no wonder that Holes has been embraced by kids and adults alike. Itís smart, funny, thrilling and moving Ė a treat for all ages.