Holes is a wonderful book. What at first appears to be a simple story about a boy accused of a crime he did not commit soon begins to reveal as many layers as the onions that are a recurring symbol in the novel. The story dips in and out of the history of Stanley’s family and of Green Lake, slowly unravelling a complicated knot of connections and coincidences, and of legacies of hate, hope and luck passed down the generations. It becomes clear that everything in the story, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, is relevant to the plot in one way or another. Objects or names mentioned in passing will turn out to be vitally important, keeping the plot twisting and adding a deep sense of inevitability to events.
Everything is so tightly and perfectly plotted that the book takes on the feel of a fairytale. The story does not really reflect real life, as coincidences very rarely happen on this scale and nothing in life ever wraps up so neatly. In fact, this slightly unreal feeling complements the themes and ideas beautifully. The book mixes magic, curses and fate with the real world, but it isn’t quite fantasy, isn’t exactly metaphor and isn’t quite real either. Instead, the book has the feel of a modern folktale.
This feeling is emphasised by the author’s style, which tends to be simple and direct, with a few more lyrical moments when characters are feeling reflective, or when events appear to be moving with the hand of fate. There are also moments when the author speaks directly to the reader, once again reflecting the fairytale/folkloric tone. The characters are all well written and realistic, even those who only exist to be minor antagonists, and the author effortlessly creates sympathy for Stanley, Zero, Kate and other characters. Vivid descriptions of places, which are so important in the story, are combined with a great sense of pace and an unravelling mystery, which makes this a hard book to put down.
Holes is very dark in places, but it maintains a funny and light approach, even when dealing with heavier, important themes. This is not a book that speaks down to children, and though it is written for young readers it has the kind of approach and style that will appeal to all ages. As a story about friendship and bravery, about human kindness and cruelty and the ways in which our actions can have devastating consequences long after the event, about learning to deal with failure and difficulties, and about never giving up hope, this book is very successful and moving.
Holes is a clever and fun book with many layers that continue to reveal themselves as the story progresses, resulting in plenty of twists and satisfying revelations. Surprising and powerful, it is easy to see why the book has won several awards, and why it has proved so popular with both children and adults.
“Unmistakably powerful” – The Guardian
“Written with a crystalline prose and simplicity of style it is startlingly original. There is not one false sentence” – The Independent on Sunday
“This is a story of friendship with the cleverest of plot twists, and descriptions so vivid you can feel the heat of Stanley’s desert prison burning off the page. A total must-read.” – The Times
“An exceptionally funny and generous book that is also a tightly plotted detective novel” – The Guardian
“Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles. Good Guys and Bad get just desserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure.” – Kirkus Reviews