"Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to dig holes at Camp Green Lake detention centre for stealing a pair of trainers. Stanley's quest to discover what he is digging for leads to danger and adventure and to a confrontation with his family's past."
The absurd premise of the theft of a pair of trainers - not to mention the mysterious holes that Stanley and his fellow "campers" are forced to dig at what must be the worst camp ever - serve as an intriguing narrative hook before you've even turned back the cover. Expectations are therefore high, and yet Sachar manages to fulfil them through the story of the possibly the unluckiest literary hero in history.
The story's modern anti-hero, Stanley Yelnats, and his various co-campers, paint a slightly 'emo' and sardonic picture that still remains humorous, and which in conjunction with the wacky events that follow, help to turn teenage readers onto the quirkier side of literature while still keeping real aspects of the characters that readers can relate to, in much the same way as Paula Danziger's books do. As well as the zany "what-ifs" that Stanley's situation generates, the narrative is cut through by tales of his family's past, as well as those of notorious outlaws and of the old lake's infamous and mysterious past. Initially these seem disconnected and we wonder where the author is going with this, but it is not long before he ties them up in superb and deft style. All of these narrative threads have the common aim, too, of Stanley eventually being able to better himself, meaning that the novella is not only a journey of justice and family history but Stanley's personal journey of self-esteem and self-confidence.
And by putting it like that, I've just made it sound a lot more American and schmaltzy than it actually is. In fact, it is gutsy and daring, with the characters proving imperfect but nonetheless likeable, rendered even more so by the classic young-adult-fiction trick of pitting the put-upon children against evil and malevolent adults (a turn employed by Roald Dahl, among other eminent children's authors). In triumphing against them, particularly when set against the earlier grim backdrop of the story's setting, we too feel Stanley's new-found sense of self-belief and ambition. We are convinced of his spirit and tenacity to a far greater degree than at the start of the book, when he seems to really be at the bottom of the pile.
As a result, it seems very appropriate for the author to tell us at the end of the book that 'we have to fill in the holes ourselves' and that perhaps not all of what Stanley is digging for is fully related in Holes. It is from this that we also learn about ourselves as we read, and it is perhaps because of this that we feel so heartened to discover that Holes is followed up by two further volumes.
Other works by Louis Sachar
Sideways Stories from Wayside School series (5 titles; 1978-1995)
Marvin Redpost series (8 titles; 1992-2000)
Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (2003; second in the Holes series)
Small Steps (2006; third in the Holes series)
Johnny's in the Basement (1981)
Someday Angeline (1983)
Sixth Grade Secrets (1987)
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom (1988)
The Boy Who Lost His Face (1989)
Dogs Don't Tell Jokes (1991)
Monkey Soup (1992)
The Cardturner (2010)