20/07/2010

Holes (by Louis Sachar)

I'd heard of Louis Sachar, because he won a prestigious award for this book. I had wondered about reading it, but I tend to be biassed (often unfairly) against so-called 'literary' fiction. However, when I saw it for 60c at the local thrift store, I decided to pick it up. It's sat on my shelves for a few months; however, I recently wanted something completely different from my usual reading diet, and it looked as if this would fit the bill.

I had forgotten that it's technically teenage fiction; not that it matters, since I very much enjoy children's books. This is one of those crossover novels anyway, which is entirely suitable for adult, and indeed younger children. Though probably not the very young. The story is about Stanley Yelnats, a rather ordinary and not very popular boy who has a string of bad luck. Then, unjustly accused of stealing some trainers, he is sent away to a camp.

I suppose it's a bit like Harry Potter in reverse. Stanley comes from a loving (if slightly eccentric) home, and knows that his parents will miss him. So he writes to them regularly, and does not let them know that the camp is in fact rather abusive, not correctional at all. There are no water sports or hiking expeditions. Instead, every child in the camp has to dig a five-foot hole, every day. They start long before dawn so as to avoid the sun as far as possible... but they have to continue until they have finished. Without fail.

Naturally Stanley develops blisters and struggles at first, but he gradually gets stronger, and is surprised to find that the other boys like him.

It doesn't sound like much of a plot for a story... however, there are several other strands neatly woven into it. There's the story of why Stanley has his palindromic name, and of the ancestor who, supposedly, received a curse that has affected all his relatives with bad luck ever since. There are warnings about dangerous yellow-spotted lizards, too. And slowly, as the story unfolds, we learn exactly why the children are digging these holes in this particular location.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It's a little tense in places, and even poignant; yet there's a dark humour there too. It's a coming-of-age book, in that Stanley certainly matures as well as growing physically stronger during his time at the camp, and it's something of a mystery, with subplots which all come together cleverly in the satisfying ending.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 20th July 2010

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