Why I Still Like “Holes” 13 Years Later

Holes by Louis Sachar

While I was retrieving my Mary Poppins books from my library-in-a-box (more like library-in-fifteen-boxes, actually), I also came across Holes by Louis Sachar.
The Disney movie adaptation had recently aired on TV, and I remembered liking the book better, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to reread that one again too?

And of course, I liked it again.  I think the movie did a decent job of translating the book into that medium, but to me, Holes-the-story works best as a novel.  My favorite parts – the style, narrative voice, and wordplay – are native to that form.  There’s good reason for Holes to have won the Newbery Medal in 1999.

Of course, I was the target audience when this YA novel was released (I was nine and the book is labelled Ages 9-12), so maybe I’m a little biased.  But I also loved the Wayside School book series from Sachar.  While reading Holes I remembered the charm of that series, so perhaps I will be digging those out of my collection as well.  I will say that I haven’t read Small Steps, the follow-up novel to Holes.  By 2006 I was out of that age group.  I decided that I would get it sometime in the future…and I’m still planning to do so.

Since Holes was created for young adults, it is a very tightly-written narrative.  Many writers will tell you that, contrary to popular belief, writing for a younger audience is more difficult than writing for an audience of adult peers.  The word economy in Holes is remarkable, and I am desperately jealous.  Sachar compresses a chronologically challenging, multiple-storyline, character-driven narrative into a mere 233 pages.

The Impossible Cube Illusion

What the physical manifestation of the “Holes” narrative would look like.

Handling multiple storylines is always tricky, and often they don’t interlock very well.  However, each piece in Holes links with all of the others. The present-day problems of Stanley Yelnats, the love story of Katherine the school-teacher and Sam the onion man, the robbery of Stanley’s ancestor by Kissin’ Kate Barlow, and the no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather all manage to fit together in some impossible object.  While this book features many holes, plot holes are not among them.

Yet even with this masterful plot-weaving, Sachar’s charm shines through.  Wordplay and names are a fun feature of the Wayside School stories, and they show up here in spades. Stanley Yelnats IV, Zero, and Kissin’ Kate’s names are not just memorable and recognizable, but crucial to the narrative.  It matters that Stanley is the fourth bearer of that name. The story would be different if he wasn’t. It matters how the reader is introduced to Zero, the outlaw, and even the Warden.   Naming is even a feature when it comes to the supporting cast.  Each boy’s nickname serves as an important identifier: X-Ray, Magnet, Caveman, Zigzag, Twitch.

That’s probably enough of my blathering on about how much I like this little book.  You should reread it too – or try it out for the first time, if you haven’t yet.

Just watch out for yellow-spotted lizards.


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