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Home > Reading Comprehension > book reviews > Holes

Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

Preview the Holes Comprehension Companion (literature lessons to accompany Holes )

Title, Author & Publisher: Holes by Louis Sachar

Length: 233 pages - no illustrations, which is really a shame.

Print size: Usual "children's literature" size.

Other readability issues: This story is a tall tale, though it's not obvious at the beginning. The opening is a clue: the description the poisonous wildlife at Camp Green Lake demotes being bitten by rattlesnakes or scorpions to second-ranking under the "yellow-spotted lizard," which is "the worst thing that can happen to you. You will die a slow and painful death. Always." The other characters are also larger than life, from "Mr. Sir" to "The Warden" to Madame Zeroni.

The plot is straightforward but is interrupted often by explanations of the circumstances which led to Stanley's sentence to Camp Green Lake and hte history of his family's curse.

Attention to detail is very important. Students may tune out on the "family history" or skip it if reading independently, which would be a mistake because every event has a significant impact on the plot at some point. The "aha!" at the end of a chapter may need to be discussed enough to make sure students understand, for example, just how odd it is for Stanley to see a makeup case in the Warden's cabin that is just like the one his mother has. The tangling and untangling of events could be compared to some of Shakespeare's comedies. Every detail -- down to the nickname "Sweet Feet" of the owner of the celebrity sneakiers -- is important later.

Inferences shouldn't pose any problems here but there are many opportunities for predicting outcomes. When Stanley is reflecting back on how his great-grandfather had been found in the desert, half-delerious, saying something about being saved by "God's Thumb," a thunderstorm shortly thereafter reveals a rock formation to him. What might happen?

The conflicts are, like the characters, larger than life and fairly obvious. There are enough subplots in the 'historical recollections' to give good practice in finding conflicts. Character analysis is also a good skill to work on with this book because the characters are so flamboyantly unique.

Summary: Stanley Yelnats, a "Charlie Brown" like middle school kid, is sent to a correctional camp in Texas where he is supposed to builld his character and reform his ways. He finds many characters and does some reforming, thought not the kind the authorities had in mind

Maturity issues: I thought there might be some, given the "juvenile correctional camp" setting, and reading the reviews & previews and phrases like "eerie tour de force," "darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment -- and redemption." There aren't any. If there were illustrations it might be scary for small children (like the Wizard of Oz, which in fact would be a good story to 'compare and contrast' with), and there are tragic and violent elements to some of the historical reflections.

Typical words: Typical multisyllable/irregular words - you may want to see how many of these words your students can identify before expecting them to read independently. The exaggeration of characters and events may make comprehension more difficult for some, but for others will clarify plot and characters. The vocabulary is not especially challenging -- some words are hard for struggling readers to decode, but most of the words will be in students' oral vocabularies.

























Other comments:

  • If you have budding comic book artists in your class, this book cries out to be illustrated in all its animated glory. From "THe Warden" with her "deadly-when-wet" fingernail polish to the cache of onions, there is scene after scene best imagined as if it were an animated Disney movie (Cruella DeVille comes to mind) or an expressively drawn comic book.

  • This book is listed under "Juvenile Delinquency -- Fiction." It's hardly a "real life" book about troubled teens. However, students may identify with Zero, who is smart, but asks Stanley to teach him to read and write (and the skills he acquires are, of course, an important element later.)


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