Holes by Louis Sachar

And so, Stanley Yelnats seems set to serve an easy sentence, which is only fair because he is as innocent as you or me. But Stanley is not going where he thinks he is. Camp Green Lake is like no other camp anywhere. It is a bizarre, almost otherworldly place that has no lake and nothing that is green. Nor is it a camp, at least not the kind of camp kids look forward to in the summertime. It is a place that once held "the largest lake in Texas," but today it is only a scorching desert wasteland, dotted with countless holes dug by the boys who live at the camp.

The trouble started when Stanley was accused of stealing a pair of shoes donated by basketball great Clyde "Sweetfeet" Livingston to a celebrity auction. In court, the judge doesn't believe Stanley's claim that the shoes fell from the sky onto his head. And yet, that's exactly what happened. Oddly, though, Stanley doesn't blame the judge for falsely convicting him. Instead, he blames the whole misadventure on his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." Thanks to this benighted distant relative, the Yelnats family had been cursed for generations. For Stanley, his current troubles are just a natural part of being a Yelnats.

At Camp Green Lake, the warden makes the boys "build character" by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn't take long for Stanley to realize there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the treacherous warden is searching for something, and before long Stanley begins his own search—for the truth.

Fate conspires to resolve it all—the family curse, the mystery of the holes, the drought that destroyed Green Lake, and also, the legend of Kissing Kate Barlow, an infamous outlaw of the Wild West. The great wheel of justice has ground slowly for generations, but now it is about to reveal its verdict.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the book called Holes?
  2. Besides the boys, who else dug holes at Green Lake?
  3. How does digging holes help Zero and Stanley survive?
  4. Was there a hole in Stanley's life when he went to Camp Green Lake? Was it still there when he left? Why or why not?
  5. What "holes" are there in the story for the reader? How are they "filled in"?
  6. Stanley is overweight and considered a misfit by the boys in his school and neighborhood. Why Stanley is an easy target for bullies. At what point in the novel does Stanley begin feeling that he is a part of the group? Who is the leader? How do the guys view Stanley at the end of the novel? How might Stanley be considered a hero? How Stanley's heroic status might change the way his classmates view him when he returns to school in the fall.
  7. Besides the title, the characters' names are also symbolic. Discuss the importance of names in the book. What is the significance of Stanley's name being a palindrome? Talk about the names in the book, particularly the nicknames given to the boys at Camp Green Lake. Discuss the significance of each boy's nickname. Why is Stanley called "Caveman"? How can nicknames "label" people and affect the way they feel about themselves? How does Stanley's self-concept change as the story progresses? Why does Stanley call Zero by his real name when they are in the desert together? Engage the class in a discussion about how Stanley and Zero help one another gain a more positive sense of self.
  8. Ask the class to define courage. When does Stanley begin to show courage? Have students chart Stanley's courageous acts (e.g., stealing the truck). Which other campers might be considered courageous? What gives Stanley the courage to search for Zero? Discuss which characters in the parallel story demonstrate courage. Ask students to prepare questions they would most like to ask Stanley about his newly developed courage. How might Stanley answer their questions?
  9. Stanley never had a friend before arriving at Camp Green Lake. Ask students to trace the development of Stanley's friendship with Zero. What are each boy's contributions to the friendship? When Stanley finds out that Zero is the person who stole the Clyde Livingston sneakers, he feels glad that Zero put the sneakers on the parked car. Explore why.
  10. There are many parallels between the different stories told in Holes. Explain the importance of these recurring themes: peaches, onions, lizards, Mary Lou.
  11. Compare the song that appears throughout the book with the version that ends the book. How does the tone and meaning change? How does that reflect the changes that occurred in the book?