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Holes (novel)

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Sachar - Holes Coverart.png
AuthorLouis Sachar
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux (US)
Bloomsbury (UK)
Ediciones SM (Spain)
Publication date
August 20, 1998
[Fic] 21
LC ClassPZ7.S1185 Ho 1998

Holes is a 1998 young adult novel written by Louis Sachar and first published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book centers around an unlucky teenage boy named Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile corrections facility in a desert in Texas, after being falsely accused of theft. The plot explores the history of the area and how the actions of several characters in the past have affected Stanley's life in the present. These interconnecting stories touch on themes such as racism, homelessness, illiteracy, and arranged marriage.

The book was both a critical and commercial success. Much of the praise for the book has centered around its complex plot, interesting characters, and representation of people of color and incarcerated youth. It won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". In 2012 it was ranked number six among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal.

Holes was adapted by Walt Disney Pictures as a feature film of the same name released in 2003. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, grossing $71 million, and was released in conjunction with the book companion Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake. A sequel to Holes entitled Small Steps was published in 2006 and centers on one of the secondary characters in the novel, Armpit.


The novel alternates between the late 19th century, and the present day, with interrelated but distinct plot lines.

Present day[edit]

Stanley Yelnats IV is a 14-year-old boy from a hard-working but poor family that is allegedly affected by a curse of bad luck, which they blame on Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather".[1] Stanley's latest stroke of misfortune occurs when he is wrongly convicted of the theft of a pair of athletic shoes once owned by famous baseball player Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston, which had been donated to a homeless shelter to raise money.

Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile corrections facility which is ironically located in the middle of a sterile desert. As punishment, the camp inmates are assigned to dig one hole each day five feet wide and five feet deep in order to 'build character'. Stanley soon begins to suspect that they are really digging to find something hidden beneath the ground.

19th-century curse[edit]

Stanley's great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, is in love with a fifteen-year-old girl named Myra Menke. However, a much older pig farmer named Igor Barkov also wants to marry her, offering Myra's father 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. Despite not approving of Myra as a partner, she gives him a tiny piglet, telling him to carry it up a mountain every day, and let it drink from a stream while singing to it. Every day the water will make it grow bigger, and Elya will grow 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. However, Zeroni warns him that if he does not carry her up the mountain, his family will be cursed.

Elya follows her directions, and the piglet grows to a large size, but he does not carry it up on the final day in order to have time to clean up. After the pigs weigh the same, Myra uses an arbitrary number selection tactic to choose, and Elya leaves in disgust. Forgetting his promise to Madame Zeroni, he moves to America to start a new life, falls in love, and marries, but he is beset by Zeroni's curse. The song that he sang to the piglet becomes a lullaby that is passed down among Elya's descendants, who are all named Stanley due to its palindromic relation to the name Yelnats.

Kissin' Kate Barlow[edit]

In the year 1888, the town of Green Lake is a flourishing lakeside community. Katherine Barlow, the white local schoolteacher, falls in love with Sam, an African-American onion seller, while rejecting advances from wealthy resident Charles Walker (nicknamed "Trout" because his feet smell like dead fish). There is an uproar in the town after Kate and Sam are seen kissing in an alley. After a mob burns down the schoolhouse, Katherine recognizes that Sam is in grave danger. She finds Sam and they attempt an escape across the lake in Sam's rowboat, but Walker and the mob intercept them with Walker's motorboat, ramming the smaller vessel and sinking it. Sam is ruthlessly shot and killed in the water, while Kate is "rescued" against her wishes. Following these actions, no rain falls upon Green Lake ever again.

The next day, Kate murders the sheriff and leaves a lipstick print on his cheek before departing to become a prominent outlaw, earning her the nickname "Kissin' Kate Barlow." Kate robs Stanley's great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats I, of his entire fortune, but instead of killing him, she abandons him in the desert that was previously Green Lake. Miraculously, he survives after he is found by lizard and snake hunters, who believe him to be crazy. Stanley I is subsequently taken to the hospital. During his stay, he falls in love with the nurse that is caring for him, and the two later marry.

Twenty years later, Kate returns to an old cabin on the former lakeside and is tracked down by Trout and his wife Linda, who are bankrupt and desperate for money due to the two-decade long drought. They try to force her to reveal where she buried her loot, but she is bitten by a highly venomous yellow-spotted lizard and dies. As she dies, she taunts them by saying, "Start digging". The Walkers are left to dig the entire area in order to find the buried treasure.

Camp Green Lake[edit]

The inmates at Camp Green Lake are forced to dig cylindrical holes five feet deep and five feet wide, which the Warden says "builds their character." They are promised the rest of their day off if they find anything that the Warden considers "interesting". Stanley finds a fossil, but Mr. Pendanski (one of the counselors) tells him that the Warden "isn't interested in fossils", leading Stanley to suspect they are looking for something in particular. During one dig, Stanley finds one of Barlow's lipstick tubes (though he does not recognize it for what it is). X-Ray, the ringleader of Tent D, asks Stanley to give him the lipstick tube so he could have the day off as he has been there the longest and deserves it. After initially refusing, Stanley obliges, and the Warden is excited by the discovery.

Meanwhile, Stanley and Zero, the smallest inmate in 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 digs Stanley's hole part of the time. The camp staff discover this, and confront the boys. The argument culminates in Zero angrily hitting Mr. Pendanski with a shovel and running 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" Livingston'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, Zeroni's descendant, unknowingly breaking the curse. They return to camp and unearth the treasure. Stanley's attorney appears at the camp, explaining that Stanley is innocent due to the emergence of an alibi. 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. Fearing that the warden will kill Zero if he leaves him behind, Stanley refuses to leave the camp unless Zero can come along. The attorney orders the Warden to get Zero's file, but the camp staff are naturally unable to find it, and Zero is also released.

Stanley's family opens 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.


Camp Green Lake[edit]

  • Stanley Yelnats IV (also known as "Caveman" by the rest of the campers, but referred to in the book by his proper name): Stanley is a 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 of blaming his great great grandfather when he gets in trouble. This habit made him impudent.[2] As the book progresses, Stanley slowly gains 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 himself and his friends and family. Stanley rebels for the rights of his friends when he steals Mr. Sir's truck to look for his friend Zero in the dry lake bed.[3]
  • 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 or write. However, he is smart and manages to stand for himself in the face of adversity, breaking Mr. Pendanski's nose with a shovel after one too many snide remarks. Typically he is noted as the character that hardly speaks due to the fact that he is wary of those who mock him. 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 stole the shoes that Stanley was arrested for and 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.
  • X-Ray (Rex Washburn): X-Ray is the unofficial head of the 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 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 it being pig Latin of his actual name, Rex.
  • Squid (Alan): Squid is a member of Group D at Camp Green Lake. He is often the one for taunting Stanley for sending and receiving letters to his mother. Just like X-Ray, Squid is very tough but very subservient to X-Ray's rules and directions.
  • Magnet (José): 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 pushes Stanley when Stanley calls him Theodore. His nickname Armpit is due to him having bad hygiene from not bathing.
  • Zig Zag (Ricky): Zigzag is described as being the tallest kid of Group D, constantly looking like he has been electrocuted, with frizzy hair. 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".
  • Twitch (Brian): A car thief who arrives at camp after Stanley.
  • The Warden (Ms. Walker): 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 do as she pleases. She has hidden cameras, using them to spy on the members of the camp. She is often thought to have hidden cameras in the showers, causing Stanley to be paranoid whenever he takes a shower, rushing out as fast as possible. She wears nail polish traced with rattlesnake venom, and scratches those who 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 the granddaughter of Charles "Trout" Walker. Her family had been digging the treasure out since her birth, but to no success.
  • Mr. Sir (Marion Sevillo): One of the counselors at Camp Green Lake, he is 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 ever since he has been at the camp, which comes back to bite him when the boy cracks him in the face with a shovel.

Town of Green Lake[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 and ten years before Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake. She falls in love with Sam, a man who sells onions in the town. 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 angry townsfolk kill Sam and destroy her beloved schoolhouse. Kate is devastated by Sam's death and becomes Kissin' Kate Barlow, one of the most feared outlaws in the West. She always leaves her mark by kissing someone when she finishes killing them; if she had only robbed them, she would leave them in the hot desert. She is the outlaw responsible for robbing Stanley Yelnats I (Stanley's ancestor). Kate dies when a yellow spotted lizard bites her foot, but dies laughing because the Walker family will never find her treasure. The lipstick tube that Stanley finds during his second week at Camp Green Lake was owned by Kate Barlow.
  • Sam: Sam is an African-American farmer in the town Green Lake, Texas who grows onions. He believes onions are the cure to everything and makes many remedies from onions. He also has an immense love for his donkey, Mary Lou. His relationship with Kate begins when he exchanges his onions for some jars of peaches. He is murdered in cold blood by Charles "Trout" Walker.
  • Charles "Trout" Walker: Charles "Trout" Walker is an extremely spoiled son of a rich family in Green Lake. He gets upset when Kate denies his request to date her. This adds on to the reason of causing him to lead the townspeople to burn down the schoolhouse and kill Sam. His nickname Trout comes from his foot fungus that causes his feet to smell like dead fish. After Kate leaves to become an outlaw, he marries Linda Miller but his family loses everything after the lake dries up. He is The Warden's grandfather, who upon his death, opens up the juvenile detention camp to increase the efficiency of finding Kate Barlow's hidden treasure.
  • 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 by Kate Barlow while he was moving from New York to California. He is known to have survived by climbing to the top of a thumb-shaped mountain (God's Thumb) which happens to be Sam's old onion field.

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 an old woman 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 is great friends with Elya Yelnats, and she gives him a pig. Because Elya breaks 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.
  • Myra Menke: Myra is the most beautiful girl in the Latvian village of Elya and Madame Zeroni. Madame Zeroni compares her to a flowerpot. Myra's father promised to award her hand in marriage to whichever suitor can raise the fattest pig. When the pigs were the same size, Myra asked Elya and Igor Barkov to guess a number between 1 and 10, showing her inability to make her own decisions.
  • Igor Barkov: Igor was Elya's competitor for the hand of Myra Menke. He was already old and fat, but was a successful pig farmer.

Minor characters[edit]

  • 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 have.
  • Barf Bag (Louis): An inmate who left Camp Green Lake before Stanley arrived. He deliberately got a rattlesnake to bite him in order to be hospitalized.


Camp Green Lake is located on a dried-up lake in the U.S. state of Texas.[4] The area is not green and there is no lake, besides the fact that there is such a little amount of shade (two oak trees), which are 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. The town of Green Lake was named for the eponymous lake which also made it a prosperous town, but the townsfolk's murder of Sam curses the town with an eternal drought causing the lake to dry up.

Literary Elements[edit]

Fairy Tales[edit]

The themes typical of a folk or fairy tale are present throughout the novel, notable in both Stanley and Elya's narratives.[5][6] Elya must go on an adventure to win his love's approval and prove his own worth and he is eventually placed under a witch's curse. Stanley's bad luck is blamed on the curse left on his great-great-grandfather and the Yelnats family easily believes in the power of this curse.[5] Both Stanley and Elya are similar to fairy tale characters and are morally good, heroic protagonists who must overcome the challenges predestined for them.[6] Both story lines are accompanied by a magic that is seen in the mountain stream, Madame Zeroni's song, and the healing power of the onions. Each of these elements in Holes mirror elements frequently found in fairy tales. [5]


Throughout the novel, names act as a theme that allows the characters to disassociate their lives at Camp Green Lake from their lives back in the real world. Names also demonstrate irony-- Camp Green Lake is not actually a camp, it's located in a desert, and there is no lake. The "campers" all label themselves differently and identify with names such as Armpit and X-Ray and the guards are referred to as counselors. One of the counselors is referred to by the boys as "Mom", representing the absent parents at Camp Green Lake.[7] Only the woman in charge is referred to in a prison-like way and is called "Warden". The different names allow the boys to bond and form a team based in their hatred for their work and the counselors.[8] Many of the characters also have names that connect them to their family history, like the passing down of "Stanley Yelnats" and Zero's last name of Zeroni, and remind them how the actions of their ancestors affect their modern-day lives. [6] Stanley is the fourth "Stanley Yelnats" in his family, a name that is passed down due to its palindromic nature and adds to the connection to family history.[6]



Labor is seen throughout the novel as the children are forced to dig holes while at Camp Green Lake. This theme is unusual in children's literature as many authors portray children as carefree and without responsibility.[9] If they do engage in work, it is synonymous with play. Critic Maria Nikolajeva contends that Holes is set apart through the not just manual, but forced labor Stanley and the other campers do daily.[9] This is first referenced at the beginning of the book when the purpose of the camp is stated: "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".[10]

Public Reception[edit]

Holes has won numerous awards, most notably the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature[11] and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".[12] It also won the William Allen White Children's Book Award in 2001.[13] It continues to be well received by critics and was ranked number 6 among all-time children's novels by School Library Journal in 2012.[14]

Betsy Hearne of the New York Times applauded the novel's integration of mystery and humor that manages to keep Holes light and fresh, and she characterizes it as a "family read-aloud."[15] Roger Sutton of The Horn Book Magazine called Sachar's declarative style effective, and argues that it helped make the novel more poignant. Sutton appreciated the positive ending and the suspense that leads the reader to it.[16]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2003, Walt Disney Pictures released a film version of Holes, which was directed by Andrew Davis and written by Louis Sachar.[17]


Two companion novels have followed Holes: Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (2003) and Small Steps (2006).[18]

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.[19]

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".[20]


  1. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling Books. p. 7. ISBN 978-0440414803.
  2. ^ "Holes Q & A". Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  3. ^ Sachar, Louis (1998). "Holes", p. 103. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 30 November 2015.
  4. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling. p. 1. ISBN 978-0440414803.
  5. ^ a b c Mascia, Elizabeth G. (2001). "Holes: Folklore Redux". The ALAN Review. 28, no. 2: 51.
  6. ^ a b c d Pinsent, Pat (2002-09-01). "Fate and Fortune in a Modern Fairy Tale: Louis Sachar's Holes". Children's Literature in Education. 33 (3): 203–212. doi:10.1023/A:1019682032315. ISSN 0045-6713.
  7. ^ Møllegaard, Kirsten (2010-08-13). "Haunting and History in Louis Sachar's Holes". Western American Literature. 45 (2): 138–161. doi:10.1353/wal.0.0117. ISSN 1948-7142.
  8. ^ Wallin, Marie (January 2008). "Literacy and the Power of the Law: Louis Sachar's Holes and Lemony Snicket's A Bad Beginning". Angles on the English Speaking World. 8: 101–110 – via EBSCOhost.
  9. ^ a b Nikolajeva, Maria (2002). ""A Dream of Complete Idleness": Depiction of Labor in Children's Fiction". The Lion and the Unicorn. 26.3: 305–321.
  10. ^ Sachar, Louis (1998). Holes. New York: Dell Yearling. p. 5.
  11. ^ "1998 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation". Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  12. ^ "Author Louis Sachar wins 1999 Newbery Medal;Illustrator Mary Azarian wins Caldecott Medal". News and Press Center. 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  13. ^ "Past Winners - William Allen White Children's Book Awards | Emporia State University". Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  14. ^ "School Library Journal Top 100 Children's Novels, 2012 Poll | Book awards | LibraryThing". Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  15. ^ Hearne, Betsy (1998). "He Didn't Do It". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Sutton, Roger (September 1, 1998). "Review of Holes". The Horn Book.
  17. ^ Holes at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ Small Steps: Summary and book reviews of Small Steps by Louis Sachar
  19. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake". Louis Sachar. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  20. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Louis Sachar: Booklist". Louis Sachar. Louis Sachar. Archived from the original on 2015-10-05. Retrieved 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

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