Book Review: Holes

By Melissa Fortuin

Author: Louis Sachar

Publication date: 1998

Genre: Adventure

As the days pass by and the weather gets colder, one picks up a sense of a collective restlessness. I think we can all agree that 2020 is not our year, and due to all the circumstances and cabin fever, all we can do is try to keep our balance in these trying times. Even though things seem a little grim, we should not forget the small pleasures our homes can sometimes offer. Let me take this opportunity to say that yes, reading offers one of the best kinds of escapism, aiding us in the reminder that our minds and our thoughts are indeed boundless, and that even in the simplest of stories, we can always take something away with us, be it an idea, be it a lesson, or be it simple enjoyment. Of course, this is all opinion, and mine at that, but if there is one way to stay afloat, it is to read.
The world is experiencing chaos, subtle sometimes in the comfort of confinement, and for others on the front lines, it can be felt as a shockwave. Books I have always felt, held a lot of the answers, be they purely literary or academic. The history books have always held a lesson or two, whether it’s a battle on the sandy plains of ancient Egypt three thousand years ago, or something not so distant as the fall of the Berlin wall. We, as a race, have seen the rise and fall of empire after empire, dictators and kings of all kinds. People have sacrificed their lives to preserving knowledge, to preserving the freedom of our thoughts and allowing us to discover… And then to choose. All of this ties in with our book today.
Today I want to talk about Louis Sachar and his breathtaking novel, Holes. One quick search and, yes, you will find that it is a children’s novel and a highly acclaimed one at that. As the days got colder and began to blend, and the world erupted in its anger, I began to wonder about curses. I don’t mean “curses” in the literal sense, more so, generational wrongs. At what point do we read the mistakes and the accomplishments of those who came before us, and well…learn from them. Destiny, love, friendship and the timelessness of it all are the main themes of Holes. The story is intricate, filled with plots within plots, outlaws, racism, incarcerated youth, witches and three family trees meant to collide to finally set the cosmic scales of generational wrong doings back into balance. Whether it’s a story written by Homer in ancient times, or even children’s stories, in any and every story there is something to be taken away.

Louis Sachar was born on the 20th of March in 1954, and attended the University of California, Berkeley obtaining a degree in Economics. He then went on to write his Wayside School series while working at a clothing warehouse. He then went on to graduate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1980, working part time on legalities but still continuing to write children’s novels. By the late eighties, Sachar was stable enough to dedicate all his time purely to writing. Holes went on to be adapted into a film in 2003, the novel itself previously having been a critical success and going on to win several awards, and listed as one of the best children’s novels of our time.
Despite Holes being a children’s novel, it deals with many themes and settings adults could and can relate to, and even our modern generation. It has the timelessness of The Little Prince, or The Secret Garden. So, what is Holes all about? Here’s just a little bit of the plot to tickle your fancy, and of course spoilers are at a minimal.
          Holes is a novel that holds in it a story within a story, from a modern-day struggling family to a young man living in Latvia years ago. Our modern family, the Yelnats have a streak of misfortune said to have been brought on by their no-good pig stealing ancestor who broke a promise to a woman who in turn cursed their bloodline. Stanley Yelnats (his name being a palindrome) is a young teenager who too is unable to escape this fate, and one day having been at the wrong place at the wrong time (or maybe the right place…) falls victim to his great great grandfather’s curse, when a pair of shoes belonging to a famous athlete magically appears in his possession. Stanley is caught with the shoes and is in turn sent to Camp Green Lake, along with other troubled youths. There, he meets other young boys who have been sent to the camp for small misdemeanors, soon discovering that by way of punishment, each boy is assigned the task of digging one hole a day, with specific specifications in the blazing hot sun. The camp is run by a mysterious woman named the Warden, who is more entangled in the history of the camp and the fate of Stanley than meets the eye. Stanley soon grows closer to one boy in particular, Zero, who is the smallest of the group, quiet, and the fastest digger. In forging their friendship, all worlds collide, merging with it the unfortunate history of Camp Green Lake, its racist past, and its mysterious warden in a spectacle of several destinies all coming together in the fate of both boys, while surrounded by suspicious adults, poisonous lizards, and one outlaw who swore revenge on the lives of all from a broken heart.
It is incredibly difficult to describe the complex beauty of this novel in a few short words. The language is simple and straightforward, considering it is a children’s novel, but the story in itself is magical. It is such a hard hitting take on the beauty that is friendship, and courage to do what is ultimately right, whether it be in platonic relationships or love. It shows us plainly the consequences of our inability to seek out and understand that as humans, we are all connected, and that we must do everything it takes to preserve the foundations of our morality, of truth and justice. It is a deeper look into the consequences of racism and revenge, and of the power of unlikely people working together instead of against each other. It is about the power of the mind, and our inner compass, even when faced with seemingly impossible situations under tyrannical authorities.
          Holes is a book that is funny, emotionally striking and sometimes violent, and endearing. It interweaves between the lives of its characters, the Egyptian woman and her curses, or the outlaw woman whose only sin was falling for a man not of her race, the brewing warden and her venomous nails, and then the unlikely pair of Zero and Stanley. All these stories are interconnected in the most unlikely of ways, and finally connect as the reader unwraps the dark mystery of it all. More wrongs cannot make a right. It took a series of interesting characters a few hundred years to understand that.

As for us, we have each other, our scars and our histories. They lay a map for us, whether by word of mouth or by pen and paper, as a whole to see into the future. It’s plain and simple in our novel for today, history repeats itself and when it does, the lessons are right there to make different choices. I love Holes, and cannot think of a reason why it is to be avoided.
If you are driven mad by the news, the smell of sanitizer and cabin fever, grab a copy. Brew some tea too. You’ll need it. Stay safe, stay cozy and stay reading.