By Matt Berman,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Exciting mystery is often intense but occasionally funny.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Though the past and present stories in Holes are fictional, they teach readers about the history of racism in the United States. Some information about desert wildlife.
"When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up."
Positive Role Models
Stanley is kind of a nerdy misfit who weighs more than others in his peer group. He's resourceful and adaptable when he needs to be, and his problem-solving abilities help him survive Camp Green Lake. In the "historical" parts of the story, Katherine Barlow, who's White, loves Sam, who's Black, despite the racism in her community.
Violence & Scariness
Residents of the camp have fistfights and use shovels as weapons. Guards carry guns. In a flashback, a woman is sexually assaulted by the sheriff, and a racist mob murders a Black man for kissing a White woman. A woman later shoots the sheriff.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sam and Katherine kiss.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
In a flashback, the sheriff of Green Lake sits at his desk drinking whiskey. He tells Katherine, "I always get drunk before a hanging."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Louis Sachar's Holes is a moving, action-packed, and sometimes violent mystery that won the Newbery Medal. It's about a boy named Stanley, who's falsely accused of a crime and sent to a juvenile detention center in the middle of a desert in Texas. The story will excite young readers' sense of justice, as Stanley is treated most unfairly. In the flashback passages, Katherine, a White woman, loves Sam, a Black man, and they're victims of racist violence. There's threatened as well as real violence in the present-day parts of the book, including fistfights, drawn guns, attacks with shovels, and danger of poisoning. This is a more intense book than many novels for this age group, as some adults in the book treat youngsters as slaves. However, there are some funny moments, and the mysterious ways that past and present connect in the book are engaging at just the right grade level. The book was adapted for a 2003 movie, and there's a good audiobook version read by Kerry Beyer.
Where to Read
Based on 17 parent reviews
Great Book, but Not for Younger Children
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What's the Story?
In HOLES, Stanley Yelnats, falsely convicted of stealing a celebrity's sneakers, is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center in the middle of the desert, where each inmate is required to dig a large hole every day. The seasoned prisoners are rough and mean, and the conditions are dreadful, especially compared with the loving home that Stanley has known. As Stanley gets to know the other boys and the grueling routine, he also realizes there's a mystery behind this strange punishment that's related to a treasure and even to the supposed curse on Stanley's family dating back to his "dirty-rotten-pig-stealing" great-grandfather. The keys to the mystery have to do with a long-gone outlaw named Kate Barlow, a young boy called Zero, a greedy warden with rattlesnake venom nail polish, and whatever is buried in the parched desert of Green Lake.
Is It Any Good?
As Louis Sachar's edgy plot weaves between intersecting stories, past and present, the author creates a unique mystery, full of twists and danger. This novel includes violence and cruelty, and it may be somewhat intense for some young readers. However, there are funny moments, too, and mystery lovers will be fascinated as the story unfolds. It's also a great book for parents and teachers to introduce simple concepts of literary analysis and use of language, as the word "holes" has multiple meanings in the book.
This Newbery winner is often a hit with fourth and fifth grade readers who are ready for something that's intellectually a little bit challenging, as well as a fair bit darker than most novels for their grade level.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Stanley survives Camp Green Lake in Holes. How did his life before the camp prepare him for this experience?
How do Stanley and Zero help each other? How do their different abilities and backgrounds make them useful to each other?
Have you seen the movie of Holes? How is the film different from the book?
- Author: Louis Sachar
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: May 9, 2000
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 233
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: May 17, 2021
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