I remember first reading Holes when I was in the 5th grade; it was always taken out of the library and I had to put myself on the waiting list to check it out. And I absolutely loved it back then. A while after this, the movie adaptation came out, and since then I’ve watched it about a million times (give or take). So I thought, hey, why not revisit it now, after just finishing a different novel, which was so long and detailed? A nice little palate cleanser. And honestly, it’s almost word-for-word exactly the same as the movie, with just a few slight changes. Have you seen or read it? I was shocked to find out that the cousin I work with had no idea what this story was even about! But maybe I was just the right age at the right time when the book/movie came out. Because really, it is more of a book for children or youth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still valuable.
Holes is about a teenager named Stanley Yelnats IV who is being sent to a reform camp for young boys convicted of crimes; Stanley has been charged with a theft that he didn’t actually commit, he just happened to end up in possession of the stolen items through circumstance. His family always seems to have bad luck, which they chalk up to being due to a family curse placed on them generations before. In any case, Stanley must go to this camp in the middle of a Texas desert, where young boys are told they will build character and learn a lesson through digging a hole in the hot sun every day: five feet diameter, by five feet deep. But that’s just the story on the surface, because of course adventure ensues when a bunch of boys get together, and when Stanley considers that perhaps they aren’t just digging to build character, but to find something lost in time.
We see Stanley grow to form a bond with these misfit, lonely boys, and how people put together in hardship can form strong bonds no matter their differences. We see how the past can affect the future, and how there may be an interconnectedness to everything. Because apart from the present-day story presented, there are two main subplots involving Stanley’s ancestors and the curse that is put upon them, as well as a tragic origin story of a historic outlaw in the area known as Kissin’ Kate Barlow. Seriously, that flashback part in the movie with Patricia Arquette and Dulé Hill always messed me up: “I can fix that,” says Sam the onion man, but can he fiX THIS HOLE IN MY HEART?
Overall, the story of Holes unfolds pretty quickly with just enough detail to paint a visual picture, but nothing too extraneous. The writing is extremely straightforward and blunt at times, and while I understand that it’s a children’s story, it definitely made me zip through bits just because the pacing is so fast. But there is a lot to be said about the themes, if only given a little space to breathe and take time to really consider them, which the pace maybe doesn’t allow without forcing yourself to kind of slow down at times. Two major themes are the importance of friendship and keeping promises, which were the main things I noticed reading this as a child, but there are also deeper implications within the story as well; racism, sexism, criminal justice, poverty and how this can affect every aspect of your life, children getting lost in the system, not knowing the traumas other people have experienced in their lives, and even something seemingly simple but incredibly concerning in regards to people in positions of care that really don’t care at all.
I really do love this story, and perhaps it’s my nostalgia and already present enjoyment of it that made me love zipping through it again now. The only thing I would really want to know more about is what happened to some of the other boys of the camp after the end of the story: what happened to them? Did they just end up back in the system or back into a cycle of crime because of how hard it is to return to a normal life after being branded as a criminal? Apparently there is a sequel novel that features a few of the boys from Stanley’s tent after the events of Holes, which honestly I might be inclined to check out, just because of my curiosity. But in the meantime, maybe it’s time for me to watch this movie again. I mean… Sigourney Weaver’s sassy “Excuse Me?” is pretty iconic.