Originally published in 1998, Louis Sachar’s Holes is the most recently published book on my #2016classicschallenge list.
It is the story of Stanley Yelnats, a teenager wrongly convicted of a minor crime and sent to Camp Green Lake, a detention centre unlike no other. Every day Stanley and his “camp mates” (fellow detainees) , must dig a hole that is exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. They start before sunrise and continue digging as the days get hotter and their mouths get dryer – only when their hole is complete can they stop digging for the day and return to camp. It doesn’t take Stanley long to realise that they are not just digging because it is “character building” (the official line used by the staff) but because they are looking for something specific – the boys are under instructions to report anything they find that may be of interest to the warden, with the tantalising prospect of the rest of the day off if she approves of their find.
What unfolds is a story that has pretty much everything – there is hardship and fear (the warden is particularly terrifying with her nail polish made with rattlesnake venom) but also moments of camaraderie and comedy (particularly around the family legend of Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather” from whom his bad luck is said to be inherited). The contemporary narrative of Stanley’s experience at Camp Green Lake is intertwined with that of “Kissin” Kate Barlow, a 19th century outlaw who crossed paths with the first Stanley Yelnats, great-grandfather of our hero. This marriage of past and present is beautifully orchestrated with the “holes” in one story gradually being filled in by the other.
There is a simplicity and maturity in the way that Holes is told that I found captivating – I can definitely see why it is regarded as a modern classic and am very glad I have finally read it and filled in one of the “holes” in my reading repertoire!