In the Netherlands, you have to read a list of books for your languages exam. Obviously, not all books are permitted. If there’s one rule that’s important it’s that only adult books are allowed on the list. I completely agree with this rule. There are people out there who would unflinchingly put Animorphs on the list. Sometimes, though, I read a book for young people and think it’s a real shame this book isn’t on the list. Holes by Louis Sachar is such a book. (82)
Holes is pretty well-known, and for good reason: it has one of the best plots I’ve ever read. Holes is about a teenager named Stanley Yelnats who gets in trouble for supposedly stealing some particularly special sneakers. He gets sent to a camp for boys who did something criminal. At camp, the boys have to dig holes all day long in a hot desert. Or, as the book puts it: “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. That was what some people thought.” At first, it seems as if this is just pointless hard labour, but Stanley soon learns there is something more behind it. (124)
The main reason this book is so popular is the genius of the plot. There are various storylines throughout the story that only make sense at the very end. There’s Stanley’s storyline, the storyline of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather who stole a pig and got the entire family cursed and the story of Miss Katherine the school teacher and her black boyfriend Sam. Each of these stories takes place in a different time and seems to have nothing to do with the main plot at first. But trust me: literally every single detail makes sense in the end. I can’t think of any information that was useless, but when you read it for the first time it seems like just another description. It’s an awesome journey on the first read, and only becomes more amazing when rereading it. (136)
I had the same problem with this book as with Les Misérables: there’s just too many boys to remember. They’re all very much alike. Thankfully, the most important boys – the ones that individually change the plot – are very distinct and easy to recognize. The way the other characters are described, they really come to life. Every one of them is unique. Especially Mr. “Mom” Pendanski is very creepy: one the one hand he’s very nice, but once he takes a dislike to someone, he’s more vicious than Mr. Sir, who wears his meanness as a trophy. Both of them, however, are overshadowed by the Warden, who rules the Camp. These three are the main antagonists of the story. Zero is a very intriguing character. Zero is quiet, and everyone assumes he’s got a screw loose. Since no one believes in him, he doesn’t believe in himself. I really appreciated how Stanley’s relationship with him went from toxic to a real friendship and how their mutual support for each other helped them both stand up for themselves. (176)
Holes is written in a very attractive and easy-to-read way. However, some of the content isn’t very suitable for younger people. One person has… nails coated in rattlesnake venom. And she uses them too. Of course, you can’t have a story set in a desert without some harrowing stories of people dying of thirst and heat. One very striking story is about a type of yellow lizard. If it bites you, you are certain to die. And it’s not gonna be a very nice death, either. The camp counselors refuse to give water to boys that don’t listen to them. The violence isn’t just physical. As I said earlier, almost everyone joins in bullying and belittling Zero. They say he can’t do anything and will never be worth anything. This might be upsetting for a whole number of readers. (139)
This book has one main Very Important Point to make: if you repeat often enough that someone is a failure, they will become one. Both Stanley and Zero have lived with the idea that they are destined to become nobodies their entire lives, so when bad things happen to them, they shrug and bear it. Since everybody else thinks they’re losers too, nobody around them gives them any valuable support. Some even say things like “Don’t try to help them, they’re hopeless,” without meaning it in a bad way. (It’s that thing where adults tell you something with a wise tone that makes it sound like they have lots of experience when actually they’re proclaiming the biggest nonsense you’ve ever heard. I’ve got an aunt who does that.) It takes them a very long time to realise that they themselves are, in fact, capable of changing their lives. And when that moment finally comes, it’s pretty awesome. (156)
Holes is a good book in all ways: it has a wonderfully clever plot, interesting and complex characters, and decent and Christian messages. Not only is it the textbook description of quality literature, it’s entertaining to read for the people forced to study those textbooks. It also has great messages about having confidence in yourself and other people, and about the dangers of greed. If you have any time at all, have a read! It is completely and totally worth it.