AuthorLouis Sachar
GenreAdventure, mystery, fantasy
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux (US)
Bloomsbury Publishing (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 on Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional boot camp 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 labor, boyhood and masculinity, friendship, meaning of names, illiteracy, and elements of fairy tales.

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 US 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, was commercially successful, and was released in conjunction with the book companion Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake. A spin-off sequel to Holes entitled Small Steps was published in 2006 and centers on one of the secondary characters in the novel, Theodore "Armpit" Johnson.


Holes is one of 42 books written by Louis Sachar, most of which are classified as children's literature. The novel is categorized as young adult literature but has also been labeled as realistic fiction, a tall tale, a folk tale, a fairy tale, a children's story, a postmodern novel, detective fiction, and a historical legend.[1] Holes is considered an outlier of all Sachar's published books, for its complex plot, character development, and elements of teen angst and mystery.[1] Sachar says he "never intended to write a grim story" and instead "wanted it to be fun and adventurous".[This quote needs a citation] According to Sachar, he wrote Holes so that it could be "understood by a ten- or eleven-year-old kid", but also prioritized writing to please himself.[citation needed] The narrative of Holes is generally linear but also resembles multi-spatial and multidirectional narratives, similar to features of postmodernism literature.[1] Holes was inspired by Sachar's dislike for the heat in Austin, Texas, the home state of his family.[2]


Stanley Yelnats IV is wrongfully convicted of theft and is consequentially sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile corrections facility. The novel presents Stanley's story together with two other linked stories.[3]

Elya Yelnats

Elya Yelnats is 15 years old and lives in Latvia. He is in love with Myra Menke, the most beautiful girl in the village. Myra's father has decided that she should marry when she turns fifteen in two months. 57-year-old Igor Barkov offers his fattest pig to Myra's father in exchange for her hand. Elya asks his friend Madame Zeroni, an old Egyptian fortune teller with a missing foot, for help. Madame Zeroni advises Elya to go to America like her son, but when she sees his sorrow, she pities Elya and gives him a runt piglet. She tells him to carry it to the top of the mountain every day and sing a special song while it drinks from a stream that runs uphill. If he does this, his pig will be fatter than any of Igor's. Madame Zeroni says that in return, Elya must then carry her up the mountain and sing to her while she drinks from the stream. She warns him that if he does not, his family will be cursed.

Elya follows Madame Zeroni's directions until the last day, when he takes a bath instead of carrying the pig up the hill. His pig and Igor's weigh exactly the same, so Myra's father lets her decide whom to marry. When Myra is unable to choose, Elya realizes Madame Zeroni was right about Myra. He tells her to marry Igor and keep his pig and, forgetting his promise to Madame Zeroni, leaves for America. He marries the kind and intelligent Sarah Miller but is continually beset by bad luck. The song that he sang to the pig becomes a lullaby passed down by his family.

Kissin' Kate Barlow

In the year 1888, Green Lake is a flourishing Texas lakeside village. Katherine Barlow, a local schoolteacher famous for her spiced peaches, falls in love with Sam, an African-American onion farmer. She rejects the advances of Charles Walker, the richest man in town, who is nicknamed "Trout" because his feet smell like dead fish. After Katherine and Sam are seen kissing, Trout raises a mob to burn down the schoolhouse. Katherine goes to the sheriff for help; but he refuses to help her and instead demands a kiss. Katherine and Sam attempt to escape across the lake in Sam's rowboat, but Trout intercepts them with his motorboat. He shoots Sam dead and wrecks his boat, while Katherine is "rescued" against her wishes. From that day on, no rain falls upon Green Lake.

Three days later, Katherine shoots and kills the sheriff. She becomes the outlaw "Kissin' Kate Barlow", so named because she leaves a red lipstick kiss on the cheeks of the men she kills. She robs Stanley Yelnats, son of Elya Yelnats, and leaves him stranded in the desert. Seventeen days later, he is rescued by hunters, but he is delirious and can only explain his survival by saying he "found refuge on God's thumb." After twenty years, Katherine retires to the ruins of Green Lake, now a hot and lifeless wasteland. Trout and his wife Linda Miller, one of Katherine's former fourth-grade students, who are now destitute since Trout's fortune dried up with the lake, encounter her and demand that she dig up her hidden loot. She refuses, telling them that they and their children and grandchildren could dig holes for the next hundred years without finding it. They try to force Katherine to lead them to the loot; rather than give up the location, Katherine instead lets herself be bitten by a highly venomous yellow-spotted lizard nearby, and dies laughing at the two, the venom taking its effect on her.

Camp Green Lake

Stanley Yelnats IV's family is cursed, jokingly blaming Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather" Elya for their constant misfortunes. Stanley, who is in middle school, is convicted of stealing a pair of athletic shoes that baseball player Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston had donated to a charity auction for the homeless and is sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile corrections facility.

Prisoners at Camp Green Lake are required to "build character" by digging one cylindrical hole five feet wide and five feet deep every day. The Warden allows campers a day off if they find anything "interesting". The leader of Stanley's group, a boy nicknamed X-Ray, tells Stanley to give him anything interesting he finds. Late one day, Stanley finds an empty lipstick tube with "KB" engraved. He gives it to X-Ray, who pretends to find it the next morning. For the next week and a half, the Warden has the boys excavate the area of X-Ray's supposed discovery. Stanley concludes that she is searching for something.

Stanley learns that another prisoner, Zero, is illiterate. Zero volunteers to dig part of Stanley's hole each day if Stanley teaches him to read. When one of the counselors, Mr. Pendanski, says that Zero is too stupid to learn to read, Zero smashes Mr. Pendanski's face with his shovel and flees into the desert. When Zero does not return, the Warden assumes he has died. To avoid an investigation, she orders Mr. Pendanski to destroy Zero's records.

Stanley goes into the desert to save Zero. He finds Zero hiding under the wreck of a rowboat. Zero has survived on what he calls "sploosh", a peachy nectar stored in old jars he found under the rowboat. Stanley and Zero drink the last of the sploosh. Zero refuses to return to camp, so they head for a nearby mountain, Big Thumb, that looks like a thumbs up sign. As they ascend the mountain, Zero collapses due to exhaustion. Stanley carries Zero up the hill. He finds water, gives it to Zero, and sings his family lullaby.

Stanley and Zero live on Big Thumb for a week, eating wild onions from Sam's old onion fields. Zero, whose real name is Hector Zeroni, reveals that he stole Clyde Livingston's shoes. He was homeless and needed new shoes. When he realized everyone was making a commotion about the missing shoes, he discarded them by putting them on the roof of a moving car, and they accidentally landed on Stanley.

The boys secretly return to Camp Green Lake, and overnight, they dig where Stanley found the lipstick tube. They find a suitcase but are caught by the Warden. The Warden and the counselors stand watch over the boys all night, but they do not approach because the boys are in a nest of highly venomous yellow-spotted lizards. Stanley and Zero, however, are safe from the lizards because they smell like onions (which the lizards are known to avoid). When the sun rises, Stanley's lawyer Ms. Morengo and the state Attorney General arrive; Stanley's conviction has been overturned. The Warden claims that the suitcase was stolen from her, but the suitcase has "Stanley Yelnats" written on it. Stanley refuses to leave without Hector, so Ms. Morengo asks to see Hector's file. When Hector's records can't be found, Ms. Morengo demands that he be released, too. As they drive away, rain falls on Camp Green Lake for the first time in 110 years.

The Attorney General closes Camp Green Lake. The Warden, whose real name is Ms. Walker, is forced to sell the land.

Hector is revealed to be Madame Zeroni's great-great-great-grandson. The day after Stanley carried Hector up the mountain, Stanley's father invented a product that eliminated foot odor. It smells like peaches, and the boys name it "Sploosh". The suitcase, which had belonged to Stanley's great-grandfather, contains financial instruments worth nearly two million dollars. Stanley and Hector split the money, and Hector hires private investigators to find his mother. A year and a half later, the Yelnats house hosts a Super Bowl party celebrating Clyde Livingston's endorsement of Sploosh. Hector's mother softly sings to him a second verse to the Yelnats' family lullaby.


Camp Green Lake

Town of Green Lake

Mid-1800s Latvia

Minor characters


Camp Green Lake is located on a dried-up lake in the US state of Texas.[6] The name is a false description, as the area is a parched, barren desert. The only weather is the scorching sun. No rain has fallen since the day Sam was murdered. The only plants mentioned are two oak trees in front of the Warden's cabin; the book notes that "the Warden owns the shade." The abandoned town of Green Lake is located by the side of the lakebed. Camp Green Lake is a correctional boot camp, where "campers" spend most of their time digging holes. The majority of the book alternates between the present day story of Stanley Yelnats, the story of Elya Yelnats in Latvia (ca. mid-19th century) and the story of Katherine Barlow in the town of Green Lake in the 1880s. Later chapters focus less on the past stories and more on the present.


Fairy tales

The themes typical of a folk or fairy tale are present throughout the novel, notable in both Stanley and Elya's narratives.[7][8] 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.[7] Both Stanley and Elya are similar to fairy tale characters and are morally good, heroic protagonists who must overcome the challenges predestined for them.[8] 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.[7]


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 is 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, Mr. Pendanski, is referred to by the boys as "Mom", representing the absent parents at Camp Green Lake.[9] 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.[10] 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.[8] 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.[8] In an interview, when asked about the significance of specific names in his novels, Louis Sachar says “when I get to naming characters, there's nothing leading up to it...a name is just a name.”[11] He typically writes a name for a character, and moves on, because otherwise it disrupts his flow of writing.[11]


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.[12] 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.[12] 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."[13]


Masculinity is seen in the novel through the depiction of "boyhood" and coming of age. Boyhood is portrayed as the separation and distancing from all things feminine, specifically a mother figure.[14] Traits, symbols, and characters resembling femininity in Holes are portrayed as frightening and threatening, particularly represented by the only female character: the Warden.[14] There are many instances of quotes and comments by characters within the novel labeling women and girls as being either incapable or undesirable, which was viewed as unacceptable. Particularly, Mr. Sir says "You are not in Girl Scouts anymore" implying that girls are unable to do physical labor or build character unlike their counterparts.[15]


Friendship is seen throughout the novel through Stanley Yelnats' relationships with the other boys at Camp Green Lake. Particularly Stanley and Zero's friendship roots from an agreement that both boys can benefit from: Stanley teaches Zero to read and write, and Zero digs some of Stanley's holes. Many of the boys at the camp have a strong loyalty to each other and it is indicated that after their departure from the camp, they remained friends.[16]


Holes has received many accolades:

Holes, considered the most complex of Louis Sachar's published books, is often praised for its complex plot, character development, and suspense.[citation needed] Over two decades after its original publication, Holes continues to be well received by critics and was ranked number 6 among all-time children's novels by School Library Journal in 2012.[23] The novel spent over 150 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, reaching #1 for Young Adult fiction.[24]

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."[25] 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.[26]

The selection of Holes as a read-aloud book in elementary school classrooms, particularly in the fourth and fifth grade, has been challenged several times by parents who question the morality of the book.[16] Objecting parents found that the "book was more violent than the movie and that the book was not quality literature."[16]

Film adaptation

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; the latter also has a cameo in the film.[27]


Two companion novels have followed Holes: Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (2003) and Small Steps (2006).[28]

Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake

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.[29]

Small Steps

In this sequel to Holes, former camper 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".[30]


  1. ^ a b c Nicosia, Laura. "Louis Sachar's Holes: Palimpsestic Use of the Fairy Tale to Privilege the Reader". Children's Literature Review. 161. Gale CH1420104788.
  2. ^ Anne, Dingus (November 30, 2001). "Review of Holes". Children's Literature Review. 79. Gale CH1420044245.
  3. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling Books. p. 7. ISBN 978-0440414803.
  4. ^ "Holes Q & A". www.Louissachar.com. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  5. ^ Sachar, Louis (1998). "Holes", p. 103. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, November 30, 2015.
  6. ^ Sachar, Louis (2000). Holes. New York: Yearling. p. 1. ISBN 978-0440414803.
  7. ^ a b c Mascia, Elizabeth G. (December 2001). "Holes: Folklore Redux". The ALAN Review. 28 (2). doi:10.21061/alan.v28i2.a.11.
  8. ^ a b c d Pinsent, Pat (2002). "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. S2CID 170678333.
  9. ^ Møllegaard, Kirsten (2010). "Haunting and History in Louis Sachar's Holes". Western American Literature. 45 (2): 138–161. doi:10.1353/wal.0.0117. S2CID 162538705. Project MUSE 388561.
  10. ^ Wallin, Marie (2008). "Literacy and the Power of the Law: Louis Sachar's Holes and Lemony Snicket's A Bad Beginning". In Lock, Charles (ed.). Cultures of Childhood: Literary and Historical Studies in Memory of Julia Briggs. Angles on the English-Speaking World. Vol. 8. Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen. pp. 101–110. ISBN 978-87-635-2522-0. OCLC 313647060.
  11. ^ a b Johnson, Nancy J (1999). "Holes: A conversation with Newberry Medal winner Louis Sachar Giorgis, Cyndi". The Reading Teacher. 53 (4): 340–343. ProQuest 203269808.
  12. ^ 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. doi:10.1353/uni.2002.0031. S2CID 144227470.
  13. ^ Sachar, Louis (1998). Holes. New York: Dell Yearling. p. 5.
  14. ^ a b Wannamaker, Annette (March 2006). "Reading in the Gaps and Lacks: (De)Constructing Masculinity in Louis Sachar's Holes". Children's Literature in Education. 37 (1): 15–33. doi:10.1007/s10583-005-9452-4. S2CID 162208785.
  15. ^ Sachar, Louis (1998). Holes. Bloomsbury. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-7862-2186-8.
  16. ^ a b c Harvey, Alex (February 7, 2016). "Holes By: Louis Sachar". Banned YA. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  17. ^ Sachar, Louis (2011). Holes. Random House Children's Books. ISBN 978-0-307-79836-7.[page needed]
  18. ^ "1998 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation". www.nationalbook.org. Retrieved April 27, 2018.
  19. ^ American Library Association (September 29, 2006). "Best Books for Young Adults". Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  20. ^ "Author Louis Sachar wins 1999 Newbery Medal;Illustrator Mary Azarian wins Caldecott Medal". News and Press Center. February 26, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2018.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Holes (Holes, #1)". Goodreads. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  22. ^ "Past Winners - William Allen White Children's Book Awards | Emporia State University". www.emporia.edu. Archived from the original on October 25, 2016. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  23. ^ "School Library Journal Top 100 Children's Novels, 2012 Poll | Book awards | LibraryThing". www.librarything.com. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  24. ^ McCluskey, Megan (August 11, 2021). "The 100 Best YA Books of all Time". Time.com. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  25. ^ Hearne, Betsy (November 15, 1998). "He Didn't Do It". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Sutton, Roger (September 1, 1998). "Review of Holes". The Horn Book.
  27. ^ Holes at the Internet Movie Database
  28. ^ Small Steps: Summary and book reviews of Small Steps by Louis Sachar
  29. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Stanley Yelnats's Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake". Louis Sachar. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015.
  30. ^ Sachar, Louis. "Louis Sachar: Booklist". Louis Sachar. Archived from the original on October 5, 2015.
Awards Preceded byOut of the Dust Newbery Medal recipient 1999 Succeeded byBud, Not Buddy Preceded byNew category Winner of theWilliam Allen White Children's Book AwardGrades 6–8 2001 Succeeded byBud, Not Buddy