A Non Book Review or Non Synopsis of “Holes”

Books on display

Books, lovely books

As some of you might remember from my post on “The Art of Reading” I alluded to books I was introduced to by Timothy Spurgin. “Holes” by Louis Sachar is one of them. I would like to give you a summary of that book in how the plot was spoon fed, giving the reader just enough information to keep him reading. This is good advice for writers, too. Don’t give all your information away all at once.

In Holes, a young adult novel, the main character, Stanley Yelnats, where last name spells Stanley backwards, is forced to go to Camp Green Lake as a substitute for jail. He had been charged guilty of stealing a famous pair of sneakers.

The first chapter tells the reader that Camp Green Lake is worse than prison. It starts out as “there is no Lake at Camp Green Lake”. Then continues with how hot and barren the land is. It describes the rattlesnakes, scorpions and the poisonous yellow-spotted lizard.

The second chapter has the reader asking ‘why would anyone go to Camp Green Lake?’ and tells the reason behind the camp is to make good boys out of bad boys by getting them to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet long every day.

During the bus ride, where Stanley is the only passenger going to the camp, the reader gets a little back story and finds out how Stanley is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. The reader also gets introduced to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather whose fault it is that Stanley was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As the book goes on there are two stories, one of the great great grandfather and Kissin Kate Barlow and one of Stanley Yelnats. You’re introduced to the other dangerous juvenile delinquents, and the counselors Mr. Sir and Mr. Mom (Mr. Pendarski). This part is the universal plot ‘where stranger comes to town’, i.e. Stanley comes to Camp Green Lake.

Green Lake is pretence of juvenile jail. It is so much worse. But as the plot unfolds you realize the warden, a woman, is really looking for something and that the boys are digging holes searching for it, not really to build character. However as the plot thickens the reader finds Stanley improving both in physical and in personality characteristics.

Part two of the book takes the reader to the second of the universal plots ‘hero takes a journey’. Stanley saves his friend zero and runs away from Camp Green Lake to ‘Big Thumb’; a rock formation that hints of water from the legend of his great-great-Grandfather. The reader learns of this legend bit by bit as the need to know arises. And the reader sees Stanley grow as he realizes that he could blame no one for his predicament. Not even his no-good- dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. He takes responsibility for himself.

Zero gets sick from some ancient peaches that are found in the overturned boat in the far edge of the Lake. One has to suspend disbelieve as it becomes strangely absurd but the reader is hooked and can go with the magic as Stanley finds life giving onions and a mud hole that gives just enough water to revive our two heroes. All of this magic ties in nicely with the legend.

I’m not going to ruin the ending to this delightful YA novel that won the Newberry Medal and eleven other awards. I found this a rewarding novel to read as I found ways I could improve my writing. I found it refreshing after all the memoirs I had read. And the ingenious way to combine the two all time plots: one of “Hero comes to town” and; two of, “Hero takes a journey” was a definite plus.

Do you like to read books that you can learn writing from? If so what is it and what did you learn?

About ClaraBowmanJahn

Journal writer. Author of "Annie's Special Day" And coauthor of Edmund Pickle Chin, A Donkey Rescue Story." Proud mother and grandmother of wonderful kids. Wife of brilliant husband. Servant of two cats. Member of Pennwriters and SCBWI.
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8 Responses to A Non Book Review or Non Synopsis of “Holes”

  1. pattyabr says:

    My childrens loved “Holes”. They also loved the movie which came out maybe 8-10 years ago when they were still in grade or middle school.


  2. clarbojahn says:

    I loved the book. I’m going to get the movie now that you told me about it. I’ll get it from netflicks although the movie after reading the book is always a disappointment. In the back of the book, Louis Sachar gave a chapter on the screenplay. It was also educational, in the writing department.


  3. Jennifer says:

    I really enjoy reading YA books and find successful ones can remind a writer how to keep on track – perhaps just because they are shorter novels and must nail their story line in fewer pages and hold young readers’ attention through (usually) simpler language. Just finished reading Matched by Ally Condie (sp), an interesting new YA novel. And yes, I love reading to learn writing. Two books that come to mind are of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver – enjoyed the set-up of different story lines.


    • clarbojahn says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      Good to see you here. Thank you for suggesting other books to read for writing skills. Maybe we can draw a conclusion that YA books are best in this?:) Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all time favorite authors. I’ll reread her Animal Dreams and see what you mean. I don’t think that was YA though.


  4. I’m addicted to books and read non-fiction almost exclusively. Right now I’m reading a book called “Among The Great Apes.” Over the years, I’ve read 5 or 6 books about primate behavior and have been fascinated by them.

    I’n not so aware of learning writing from them, but I think that reading a lot of good writing does improve my own writing–and my thinking.


  5. Pseu says:

    Have you read Stephen King ‘On Writing’?


  6. clarbojahn says:

    Yes, I hardly don’t know anyone who hasn’t read that. It’s rapidly becoming a classic,although all his advice is for those who write by intuition and not rewrites and revision. I don’t know anyone that can write a book in three months like he does. He had all that experience when he was younger to draw on. I’m starting on my second career now as a writer and get floored by no advice rejection slips.


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