Holes (novel)

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Sachar - Holes Coverart.png
First edition cover
Author Louis Sachar
Cover artist Vladimir Radunsky
Language English
Genre Adventure, Satire
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US)
Bloomsbury (UK)
Ediciones SM (Spain)
Publication date
August 20, 1998
ISBN 978-0-786-22186-8
OCLC 3800257333232
[Fic] 21
LC Class PZ7.S1185 Ho 1998

Holes is a 1998 young adult mystery comedy novel written by Louis Sachar and first published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature[1] and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".[2] Originally, the book was to be called Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Kid. It was adapted into a film by Walt Disney Pictures, released in 2003.


Present day[edit]

Stanley Yelnats IV is an overweight teenage boy from a family of destitutes that is affected by "a hex", which they point the finger at Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather".[3] Stanley's latest adversity is to be wrongly accused of stealing a pair of shoes (after one bad day in school) contributed to a children's orphanage by the baseball player Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston.

As retribution, Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile imprisonment and disciplinary facility which, not withstanding its name, is in the middle of a sterile desert. When he arrives at the ravaging place, Mr. Sir, the superintendent, apprises him not to cross Warden Walker. After an apprehensive start, he is slowly accepted into the company of the inmates in Tent D. He also befriends a child called Zero, who is disregarded as stupid by the other inmates, and by Mr. Pendanski, Tent D's counselor.

20th-century Latvia[edit]

Stanley's great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, is in love with a girl named Myra Menke, but a much older man named Igor Barkov is also trying to marry her as his wife. Igor is a pig farmer, and he offers his heaviest pig in exchange for Myra's hand-in marriage.

Desperate to impress Myra and her father, Elya goes to his friend Madame Zeroni, for help. She warns him that Myra is not intelligent and will not be a good wife, and advises him to move to America, as her son has. She gives him a tiny piglet, telling him to carry the piglet up a mountain every day, and let it drink from a stream and sing to it. Each day the water will make it grow a little bigger, and Elya will grow a little stronger. On the last day, after he carries the pig one last time, he must carry Madame Zeroni herself up the mountain to do the same, as he will then be strong enough to carry her.

Elya follows her directions, and the piglet grows to a large size, but he does not carry the pig up on the final day. Elya nearly wins Myra as his bride, but his pig is revealed to be the same weight as Igor's, because the pig did not drink the water that day. Elya realizes Madame Zeroni was right about Myra's stupidity and walks away in disgust. Forgetting to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain, he moves to America to start a new life, falls in love, and marries, but he is beset by Madame Zeroni's curse. Stanley's friend Zero is revealed to be Hector Zeroni, Madame Zeroni's great-great-great grandson.


Normally in the book, Stanley sings a song in his mind that his father used to sing to him:

If only, if only, the woodpecker sighs,
"The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies."
While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
crying to the moo-oo-oon,
"If only, if only."

At the end of the book, Hector's mother sings the full version of the song. Here is the second verse of the song:

If only, if only, the moon speaks no reply;
Reflecting the sun and all that´s gone by.
Be strong my weary wolf; turn around boldly.
Fly high, my baby bird,
my angel, my only.

Green Lake[edit]

The town of Green Lake was a flourishing lakeside community in the old west (1888). Katherine "Kate" Barlow, the local teacher, has a romantic interest in Sam, an African-American onion seller. There is an uproar in the town after they are seen kissing in public. A mob led by a wealthy resident Charles "Trout" Walker assembles and Kate realizes Sam is in danger of being lynched. Kate then seeks the help of the sheriff, who drunkenly asks for a kiss. Kate leaves in disgust. She finds Sam and they try to escape onto the lake in his boat, but Walker and a group of vigilantes catch up with them in another boat. Sam is shot and killed, while Kate is rescued against her wishes. Sam's murder curses Green Lake: no rain falls on the area, and eventually the lake dries up and the town is abandoned.

For the next 20 years, Kate is "Kissin' Kate" Barlow, a feared Texan outlaw who leaves a prominent kiss-mark in lipstick on her first dead victim. Kate robs Stanley's great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats I, of his entire fortune, but rather than kill him, she abandons him in the desert that was Green Lake. Miraculously, he survives.

Years later (1908), Kate returns to an old cabin on the former lakeside and is tracked down by Charles Walker and his wife, who are bankrupt and desperate for money. They try to force her to reveal where she buried her loot, but she is bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard and dies. As she dies, she taunts them by saying, "You, your children and your children's children will dig for 100 years and you will never find it," and to "start digging". The Walkers are left to dig the entire area in order to find the buried suitcase. The Warden is the granddaughter of the Walkers, and is using the campers to search for the treasure. nobody knows for sure when he came to camp.

Camp Green Lake[edit]

The inmates at Camp Green Lake are forced to dig holes five feet deep and five feet wide, which the warden says "builds their character." They are promised a day off if they find anything interesting. Stanley finds a fossil and Mr Pendanski tells him that is not what they are looking for, leading Stanley to suspect they are looking for something in particular. During one dig, Stanley finds one of Barlow's lipstick tubes, but he pawns it off to X-Ray, the ringleader of Tent D. The Warden is excited by the discovery and orders them to greatly enlarge X-Ray's hole (the wrong hole) for several weeks.

Meanwhile, Stanley and Zero, the smallest of Tent D who got his nickname because "he has nothing in his head", become friends. Stanley agrees to teach Zero how to read, and in return, Zero assists Stanley in digging his hole. The other boys get jealous after seeing Stanley getting help, eventually resulting in a fight. The Warden and the rest of the staff arrive and learn that Zero has been assisting Stanley with digging. The argument culminates in Zero hitting Mr. Pendanski with a shovel and running away. Zero runs away, and the camp staff decide to erase their records of him and let him die in the desert. A few days later, Stanley follows Zero and finds him living under the remains of Sam's boat, eating very old jars of Kate's spiced peaches, which he calls "Sploosh". Stanley notices a mountain resembling a human fist giving the thumbs up sign, and recalls that Stanley Yelnats I claimed to find "refuge on God’s thumb". On the mountain, Zero admits that he was the one who stole "Sweet Feet's" shoes.

Atop the mountain, Stanley discovers a field of onions that was once Sam's. The boys eat the onions and find water by digging in the ground, and Stanley sings Madame Zeroni's song to Zero, unknowingly breaking the curse. Stanley suggests that they return to the hole where Stanley found the lipstick to find the buried treasure. They find a suitcase buried in the hole, but they are captured by the Warden, and surrounded by a group of lethal yellow-spotted lizards. A stalemate develops: they cannot move, but the lizards prevent the Warden's staff from approaching them. The lizards do not bite Stanley and Zero because they are repelled by onions (as Sam once said). They remain in the hole until the next morning, when an attorney arrives demanding Stanley's release, having received testimony that gives him an alibi during the time the shoes were stolen. The Warden tries to claim they stole the suitcase from her, but Zero reveals that the name 'Stanley Yelnats' is written on it, as the suitcase had belonged to Stanley's great-grandfather (Stanley Yelnats I), the one that had been robbed. After the camp staff are unable to produce Zero's file, he too is released.

Stanley's family open the case, discovering the jewels, deeds, stocks and promissory notes stolen from Stanley Yelnats I. Using the money raised from the bonds, Stanley's family buys a new house and Zero hires a team of investigators to find his missing mother; meanwhile, the drought at Green Lake is brought to an end by rainfall. The family's luck seems to change as if in response to Stanley's fulfillment of his ancestor's promise (a suggestion left purposely ambiguous by the narration). In a final scene, Clyde Livingston and his wife, along with the Yelnats and Zeroni families, celebrate the success of Stanley's father's antidote to foot odor, composed of preserved and fermented spiced peaches and onions and named "Sploosh" by Zero. The Warden is forced to sell Green Lake to "a national organization dedicated to the well-being of young girls", which turns it into a Girl Scout camp.


Major characters[edit]

  • Stanley Yelnats IV: Stanley is the unlikely hero of Holes. Stanley is an overweight 14-year-old boy who does not have any friends from school and is often picked on by his classmates and the school bully. Stanley's family is cursed with bad luck, and although they do not have much money, they always try to remain hopeful and look on the bright side of things. Stanley shares these traits with his family and, although he does not have a lot of self-confidence, he is not easily depressed, a characteristic that helps him adjust to the horrendous conditions of Camp Green Lake. However, he has a bad habit which attributes his great-great-grandfather when he gets in trouble. This habit made him impudent.[4] As the book progresses, Stanley slowly develops physical strength and mental strength. He identifies the people who threaten him, like the Warden, and while he tries not to get in trouble he also stands up for his own right and the rights of his friends and family.
  • X-Ray (Rex Washburn): X-Ray is the unofficial head of the group of boys in group D. X-Ray decides that Stanley will be called Caveman and fixes the order of the line for water. X-Ray maintains his position as the leader of the boys even though he is one of the smallest boys and can barely see without his glasses. He convinces Stanley to give him the lipstick tube that Stanley finds in his hole so that he can have the day off instead of Stanley. X-Ray is able to maintain his position at the head of the group through a system of rewards and allies. Every time that Stanley does something nice for X-Ray, X-Ray is nice to Stanley and stands up for him when the other boys pick on him. When Stanley becomes friends with Zero, however, X-Ray's system is threatened and he becomes hostile towards Stanley. His nickname X-ray comes from its being pig Latin of his actual name, Rex.
  • Zero (Hector Zeroni): Zero is known to be the best digger at Camp Green Lake. So often, he is considered to be "stupid" or a mere nothing by the other boys and the counselors at the lake. He lacks an education, meaning he cannot really read nor write. However, he is smart and manages to stand for himself in the face of adversity. Typically he is noted as the character that hardly speaks due to the fact that he is wary of those who mock him (Mr. Pendanski). He is said to always have a scowl on his face and does not like to answer questions. Zero is shown to be an honest character after becoming close friends with Stanley. Zero is the one who steals the shoes that Stanley was accused of stealing. He is the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni, the woman who put a curse on Stanley's family. He has been homeless for most of his life, as well as being abandoned by his mother at a very young age. Although he suffers quite a bit, he always seems to persevere and come out on top.
  • Squid (Alan): Squid is a member of Group D at Camp Green Lake. He is often the one for taunting Stanley for receiving letters to and from his mother. Just like X-Ray, Squid is very tough but very subservient to X-Ray's rules and directions.
  • Magnet (Josè): Another member of Group D. Magnet earned his nickname because of his ability to steal, he got into Camp Green Lake for stealing animals from the zoo and refers to his fingers as "little magnets".
  • Armpit (Theodore Johnson): One of X-Ray's close friends at camp, he is essentially the one who pushes Stanley once Stanley calls him Theodore. He is called "Armpit" because a scorpion stung him on the arm.
  • Zigzag (Ricky): Zigzag is described to being the tallest kid of Group D, constantly looking like he has been electrocuted. Stanley often thinks he is the weirdest and craziest kid at Camp Green Lake. Zigzag is the one who hit Stanley on the head with a shovel and did not apologize for doing so. Zigzag suffers from paranoia, highlighting his displayed "craziness".
  • The Warden: Running Camp Green Lake, she is known to be violent, abusive, and quite mean. She uses her power and privilege to get what she wants and make members of the camp to do as she wants. She has hidden cameras, using them to spy on the members of the Camp. She is often thought of to have hidden cameras in the showers, causing Stanley to be paranoid whenever he took a shower, rushing out as fast as possible. She wears nail polish traced with rattlesnake venom, causing her to scratch those when they displease or go against what she says. She has the members of Camp Green Lake digging holes to look for Kate Barlow's Hidden treasure. She is also the granddaughter of Charles "Trout" Walker.
  • Mr. Sir: One of the counselors at Camp Green Lake, he's constantly eating sunflower seeds. He took up this habit after deciding to quit smoking. He is known to be mean and tough.
  • Mr. Pendanski: In group D at Camp Green Lake Mr. Pendanski is in charge. Mr. Pendanski may seem friendly, but he is just as mean as the Warden and Mr. Sir. He never stops making fun of Zero.

Pre–Camp Lake characters[edit]

  • Katherine Barlow (Kissin' Kate Barlow): Katherine Barlow is a sweet and intelligent woman who teaches in a one-room school house on Green Lake one hundred ten years before it becomes Camp Green Lake. She falls in love with Sam, the man who sells onions in the town, because he is kind, strong, and smart. Although the rest of the white people in the town are racist and enforce rules that prohibit black people from going to school, Kate, who is white, does not care about the color of a person's skin and she loves Sam for the person that he is. When Kate and Sam kiss the town grows angry and kills Sam. Kate is devastated by Sam's death and is driven mad. She becomes Kissin' Kate Barlow, one of the most feared outlaws in the west. Kissin' Kate would always leave her mark by kissing someone when she had killed them; if she had only robbed them, she would leave them in the hot desert letting the yellow-spotted lizards bite the victim with their poisonous teeth and kill them. She was the outlaw responsible for robbing Stanley Yelnats I (Stanley's ancestor), whose treasure is later found by Stanley and Hector (Zero).
  • Sam: A black farmer in the town Green Lake, Texas who grew onions. He believed onions were the cure to everything. He made many remedies from onions. He also had an immense love for his donkey, Mary Lou. His relationship to Kate began when Sam exchanged his onions for a jar of peaches. Since Sam is black, he did suffer a great deal of racism. He was killed by the townspeople for kissing Kate. His death was led off by Charles Walker (Trout Walker).
  • Charles Walker (Trout): An extremely spoiled and rich son of a rich family in Green Lake. He gets upset when Kate denies his request to date her. This angers him, causing him to lead the townspeople to burn down the schoolhouse and kill Sam. His nickname Trout came about due to his foot fungus that caused his feet to smell like dead fish. He is The Warden's grandfather, which upon his death, his granddaughter opened up the juvenile detention camp to increase the efficiency of finding Kate Barlow's hidden treasure.

Characters in mid-1800s Latvia[edit]

  • Elya Yelnats: Elya is the great-great-grandfather of Stanley. He is often referred to as his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather", constantly being blamed for everything that goes wrong in Stanley's life. He is considered to be the reason why the Yelnats family has such bad luck. After he fell in love with the woman in Latvia, he travels to America, forgetting to go through with the promise he made to a gypsy named Madame Zeroni. This causes generations of bad luck to trickle down the Yelnats family tree. However, he does pass down an important song that Madame Zeroni taught him in Latvia.
  • Madame Zeroni: Madame Zeroni is the great- great-great-grandmother of Hector Zeroni (Zero). She was great friends with Elya Yelnats, who is given a pig by Madame Zeroni but he just so happened to break his promise of carrying her to the top of the mountain. She is considered to be the one who put a "curse" on the Yelnats family.

Minor Characters[edit]

  • Stanley Yelnats I: Stanley Yelnats I is the son of Elya Yelnats as well as the great-grandfather of Stanley Yelnats IV. He was the one whose treasure was stolen from Kate Barlow while he was moving from New York to California. He is known to be survived by climbing to the top of a thumb-shaped mountain (God's Thumb) which happens to be Sam's old onion field.
  • Mr. Yelnats (Stanley Yelnats III): Mr. Yelnats is Stanley's father. He is an inventor and quite smart, but extremely unlucky. He attempts to discover a way to recycle old sneakers and because of this, the Yelnats' apartment smells bad. However, he eventually discovers a cure to ridding foot odor and is able to hire a lawyer, Ms. Morengo to get Stanley out of Camp Green Lake.
  • Mrs. Yelnats: Mrs. Yelnats is Stanley's mother. She does not believe in curses but always points out the terrible luck that the Yelnats go through.


Camp Green Lake is located in Texas[5] on a dried up lake. The area is not green and there is no lake, besides the fact that that there is such a little amount of shade (two oak trees) which is owned by the Warden. Camp Green Lake is a parched barren place with the scorching sun above them with hardly any clouds, so the sun is always shining, making the environment much hotter. Camp Green Lake is a juvenile detention center, where inmates spend most of their time digging holes. The majority of the book takes place between the past and present. Protagonists deal with flashbacks existing from pre-dried up Green Lake to Latvia (mid-1800s) back to modern day Camp Green Lake.

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Holes (film)

In 2003, Walt Disney Pictures released a film version of Holes, which was directed by Andrew Davis and written by Louis Sachar.[6]


Two companion novels have followed Holes: Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (2003) and Small Steps (2006).[7]

Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake[edit]

As Louis Sachar states: "Should you ever find yourself at Camp Green Lake—or somewhere similar—this is the guide for you." Written from Stanley's point of view, the book offers advice on everything from scorpions, rattlesnakes, yellow-spotted lizards, etc.[8]

Small Steps[edit]

In this sequel to Holes, former inmate Armpit is now 17 and struggling with the challenges facing an African American teenager with a criminal history. A new friendship with Ginny, who has cerebral palsy, a reunion with former friend X-ray, a ticket-scalping scheme, a beautiful pop singer, and a frame-up all test Armpit’s resolve to "Just take small steps and keep moving forward".[9]

See also[edit]


  • Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling Books. ISBN 0440414806. 


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1998". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-26.
    (With acceptance speech by Sachar.)
  2. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children. ALA. Retrieved 2012-03-26.
  3. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling Books. p. 7. ISBN 0440414806. 
  4. ^ "author's website". www.Louissachar.com. 2002. Retrieved February 2015. 
  5. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling. p. 1. ISBN 0440414806. 
  6. ^ Holes at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ Small Steps: Summary and book reviews of Small Steps by Louis Sachar
  8. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake". Louis Sachar. Retrieved 2015. 
  9. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Louis Sachar: Booklist". Louis Sachar. Louis Sachar. Retrieved 2015. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Out of the Dust
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Bud, Not Buddy
Preceded by
New category
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award
Grades 6–8

Succeeded by
Bud, Not Buddy