Holes is one of those cult books I'd heard of but had no idea what it was about. Now I've read it, I'm still not sure what it's really about. But I love it.
A boy called Stanley Yelnats (did you notice that's a palindrome?) is mistakenly accused of theft and imprisoned in a remote juvenile correction facility. There he is made to labour, digging backbreaking holes in the desert earth.
But like so many great children's novels, this is an allegory and has many layers.
Louis Sachar uses the enigmatic story to write movingly about fate, family, racism, education, poverty, friendship, love and good character.
It's sad, funny and a darn good wild-west adventure, plus it's a book anyone can learn from. Through Stanley's level-headed, unassuming wisdom, we learn how to make the best of a terrible situation.
We learn how a guy who no one cares about and is called 'Zero' is the best friend you could have. And we learn how platitude-spouting 'good guys' like camp counsellor Mr Pendanski can be absolute villains beneath the surface.
American author Louis Sachar had been writing children's novels for many years before writing Holes (alongside working as a lawyer and having his own family), but this was the book that made him famous around the world. Published in 1998, Holes has won many awards, sold over 8 million copies and been made into a well-known film.
Sachar is a real writer's writer. In Holes, magical realism combines with tight, matter-of-fact writing you can't put down. There's not a word in this book that isn't necessary. It's powerful stuff, whether you're 12 or 80.
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