Books Are Us: Holes
The Bookseller Magazine 30.06.06
All the children in the Books Are Us reading group said that Holes by Louis Sachar was a book that they wouldn't have picked up, but when they did, they couldn't put it down.
Holes ultimately proved a hit thanks to its "exciting writing", uplifting ending and atmosphere of adventure; this was enough to overcome the children's initial prejudices against the book's "completely uninteresting title" and unappealing cover design. Anna Dreda, who runs the group in Wenlock Books, Shropshire, says: "Many of the children said that they took a while to get into the book, but once they did, they couldn't stop."
Books Are Us enjoyed the fact that Holes--the tale of an unlucky, home-loving boy who gets sent away to the Camp Green Lake correctional centre in the Texan desert when he is wrongly accused of stealing a pair of trainers--is a story about young people. The humour of the book went down extremely well, as did its narrative structure, which weaves tall tales from local history and main character Stanley's family into the central plot-line.
"The flashbacks were a good idea," says Will McCartney, aged nine, on the historical sections of the book, which include the adventures of "Kissing Kate Barlow" and the story of Stanley's pig-stealing great-grandfather. Dreda comments: "The flashbacks build tension and satisfaction in the narrative. The end of the book has delightful twists that marry the historical and the contemporary family in a magical and pragmatic way."
The main theme of the group's discussion was racism: sub-plots such as Middle America's intolerance of the mixed-race relationship between Kate Barlow and Sam, a young black boy, were the first time that some of the children had read about racial discrimination. The treatment of the black characters in the book shocked: McCartney says of the "not right" hostility displayed towards Zero and Sam that he "didn't agree with [it] at all".
The group also talked about what it meant to be a hero: how ordinary children can achieve heroic actions, and the distinction between a superhero and an ordinary hero. Sachar's well-drawn descriptions of the heat and dust of the desert were another talking point: the children were "spell-bound" by the boys' adventure on God's Thumb mountain and by the descriptions of travelling with insufficient food and water.
McCartney's favourite part of the award-winning book--his second-favourite book, after Hitler's Canary--was when the boys unearthed the treasure, only to find it covered in yellow-spotted lizards. He also enjoyed the scene in which Zero hit Mr Pendanski over the head with a shovel. For Lydia Torr, also aged nine, the highlight was the plot twist that the treasure of the letters proved to be more valuable than the diamonds. She says: "Holes is a really exciting book, full of adventure and descriptive words."