Holes

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"You, your children, and your children's children will dig for a hundred years... and you'll never find it."
Kate Barlow

"With broken hands and withered souls,
Emancipated from all you know,
You got to go and dig those holes..."

Holes is an extremely well-regarded children's novel by Louis Sachar (Wayside School). It's about teenager Stanley Yelnats, who is arrested for a crime he didn't commit and sent to a juvenile detention center called "Camp Green Lake". At the camp, the boys are mistreated by the suspicious owners, who force them to continually dig holes in the middle of a desert. And there are curses. And thumbs. And a story from the past about a romance destroyed by bigotry.

Not so depressing or angsty as the premise makes it seem, but still a bit "adult" for a kids' book, hence its success. The narrative includes two other timelines in addition to Stanley's that appear to be almost irrelevant to each other, until the resolution when they all come together.

In 2003, it was made into a fairly faithful film by Walt Disney Pictures, the script also written by Sachar. It was directed by Andrew Davis (of The Fugitive fame) and stars Shia LaBeouf as Stanley, Sigourney Weaver as the Warden, Jon Voight as Mr. Sir and a good deal of other notable actors in bit parts.

Sachar also wrote a sequel called Small Steps, which follows Theodore ("Armpit") and X-Ray after their release from Camp Green Lake. Two years later, he is trying to finish passing high school, earn some money, and get his life back on track. X-Ray, however, plans a get-rich-quick scheme with him by scalping tickets. Those tickets, however, are for the concert of Kaira De Leon, a troubled teen pop singer. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways.

Sachar also wrote a tie-in, Stanley Yelnat's Guide to Surviving Camp Green Lake.


Tropes used in Holes include:

Mr. Sir: You see any barbed wire fences? Any guard towers? No? That's because we don't need 'em. Go ahead, start running away. I won't stop you. Because in three days, you'll be buzzard food.

  • Alliterative Name: Myra Menke, and her father Morris Menke.
  • An Aesop
  • Anachronic Order
  • And Your Little Dog, Too: After Trout Walker had killed Sam, Miss Katherine found out the town had also killed Sam's beloved donkey Mary Lou.
  • Appropriated Appellation: How the boys get their nicknames (although many turn out to have Nonindicative Names).
  • Arranged Marriage: Elya Yalnets is in love with Myra Menke, but Myra's father will decide who she's going to marry; Elya or Igor Barkov. When Myra ends up being the one who has to decide between them, she just gets confused.
  • Artifact Title: In-universe. Camp Green Lake once used to be a lush lake with a thriving town, but the town dried up with the lake, leaving only a barren wasteland.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted. The protagonist is self-conscious and overweight. He's played by Shia Labeouf in the movie.
    • And the vicious Warden is played by Sigorney Weaver.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Kissin' Kate chooses to allow a yellow-spotted lizard to bite her rather than let Trout Walker kill her or tell him what he wants to know.
  • Big Bad: The Warden.
    • Bigger Bad: The Warden's late grandfather, Trout Walker.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A male example, Mr. Pendanski. He is a doctor who acts as if he really wants to help the boys and takes on the nickname, "Mom" but really he is not really a doctor and treats Zero like crap, and is later willing to let him die to avoid scrutiny by the authorities. He was even willing to let both Zero and Stanley die at the orders of the Warden while they were trapped with Yellow-Spotted lizards.
  • Brainless Beauty / Dumb Blonde: Myra Menke.
  • Brick Joke: Mr. Sir frequently reminds the inmates that "this isn't a Girl Scout camp". In the epilogue, it's revealed that Camp Green Lake becomes a Girl Scout camp.
  • Canon Foreigner: Stanley's grandfather, Stanley Yelnats II, in the film.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Almost everything noted in the first part becomes important in the later part.
    • Taken to a ridiculous extent in The Movie where, by sheer coincidence, it turns out that peaches and onions are the missing ingredient in Stanley's dad's foot-odor cure.
  • Clear My Name
  • Cosmic Plaything
  • Curse Is Foiled Again: Even more so in the movie as the camp counselors are arrested.
  • Dark Reprise: Inverted. "If Only, If Only", a Latvian folk tune passed down by Stanley's family, is a bitter, cynical song about getting shafted in life. But at the end of the book, we hear a much more uplifting version of the song sung by Zero's mom.
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: The boys insist on being called on their nicknames. Stanley wonders why would anyone insist on being called "Armpit".
  • The Dragon: Mr. Sir.
  • Embarrassing First Name: In the film, Mr. Sir's first name turns out to be Marion.
  • Evil Genius: Mr. Pendanski.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mr. Pendanski.
  • Femme Fatalons: The Warden, and to an extent Kissin' Kate.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Kissin' Kate (formerly known as Miss Katherine) became the infamous bank robber history remembers her as because her black lover was murdered in cold blood.
    • The Warden's current activities stem from her horrible childhood.
    • Possible reasons for criminality seem to be a minor sub-theme of the book: for example, when Zero and his mother were homeless, they fed themselves by stealing.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Kissin' Kate Barlow was once a schoolteacher before becoming one of the most feared outlaws in the Old West.
  • Fun with Palindromes: Stanley Yelnats.
  • Happy Rain: At the end, after a century of curse-induced drought, it begins to rain at Camp Green Lake.
  • Hereditary Curse: A bad luck curse on the main character's family due to an ancestor cheating a gypsy drives the plot.
    • It could also be considered a curse that Kate Barlow told the Wardens ancestors that they could dig for the next 100 years and never find her treasure. This is scarily true since exactly 100 years later it was found by another and the warden was arrested without even seeing inside it.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Mr Sir's last name really is Sir. His first name on the other hand...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After Zero runs away, the Warden orders his files to be deleted to make it appear that he never existed. This backfires when he's saved and returns to the camp, revealing the coverup to the Attorney General.
  • If I Can't Have You: Charles "Trout" Walker is upset for Kate rejecting him, but is very furious that she chose a black man.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...:

Miss Katherine: It's so hot, Sam, but I feel so cold...

    • Although she wasn't dying when she said it.
      • She felt as if she was, and then she committed suicide via yellow-spotted lizard shortly afterwards.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Arguably the Warden, after the audience learns about what she herself had to endure as a kid from her abusive grandfather Trout Walker.
  • Inventor of the Mundane: The father spends the entire novel trying to invent the perfect odor-eater. He finally succeeds not only at inventing it, but also at marketing.
    • In the book he's trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers.
  • Ironic Echo: When the Warden asks to see inside the trunk.

Stanley: Excuse me?

  • Killer Rabbit: Yellow-spotted lizards.
  • Kiss of Death: Kissin' Kate's calling card.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The Yelnats family's song. The book says the song rhymes and makes sense in its original language.
  • Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Subverted. It turns out one of the camp counselors was actually faking his being a doctor.
  • Mordor: Camp Green Lake, which is neither green nor a lake. It used to be, though. And by the ending of the book it is implied that it did become a lake again afterwards.
  • My Hero Zero: Played straight, although it's an intentionally derogatory nickname (his full name is Hector Zeroni).
  • Never Learned to Read: Zero, until Stanley teaches him.
  • Non-Indicative Name: X-ray, as mentioned below. Also Armpit, as we find out in the sequels, and Caveman (Stanley) for halfheartedly telling a bully to leave him alone.
    • The yellow-spotted lizards also count, as it's often noted that their yellow spots are actually too difficult to see on their body, and their more prominent features are their "red" eyes, black teeth, and white tongue.
    • And Camp Green Lake is neither green nor a lake.
  • One Steve Limit/One Degree of Separation: No characters ever realize this, but the narration mentions that both Stanley and the Warden have ancestors with the last name "Miller". In a book with this small a cast and this tight a plot, that can't be a mistake, so you gotta wonder...
  • Paranoia Gambit: After Stanley has learned to no longer expect water from the vengeful Mr. Sir, Mr. Sir surprises him by refilling his canteen. But then he takes it to his car and gives it back a minute later, still full. Then he waits for Stanley to drink from it. When he's so thirsty he can no longer bear it, Stanley pours the entire contents of the canteen, refusing to drink from it thanks to his suspicion.
  • Pet the Dog: Mr.Sir gives Zigzag an extra carton of orange juice for his birthday.
  • Pig Latin: "X-Ray" is so nicknamed because it's pig Latin for his real name, "Rex".
  • The Quiet One: Zero.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Yellow-spotted lizards are regularly mentioned to have red eyes, but they actually have yellow eyes with red spots around them.
  • Saharan Shipwreck
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: G-rated version where the Sheriff offers to run Sam out of town instead of hanging him if Miss Kate kisses him. She takes him up on his offer after she kills him--which earns her the nickname "Kissin' Kate" Barlow.
  • Schoolmarm: Kate Barlow originally was one.
  • Shoot the Hostage: After Stanley and Zero get covered in yellow-spotted lizards, the counselors aren't sure whether to wait for the lizards to kill them, or to shoot, risk killing them, and have to deal with the Attorney General arriving to see it.
  • Shout-Out: In the movie, a bluesy version of "Down To The River To Pray" from O Brother, Where Art Thou? is heard after we're introduced to the "counselor", who was a member of O Brothers Power Trio.
  • Smelly Feet: Trout Walker and Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston both have terrible foot odor. Stanley's father in the end comes up with a cure to foot odor.
  • Spoiled Brat: Myra Menke.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Poor Miss Katherine and Sam.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake for stealing a pair of shoes, which by his account he found after they fell from an overpass. His best friend at Camp Green Lake is Zero, who was the one who actually stole the shoes and threw them off the overpass. Furthermore, Zero's ancestor placed the Hereditary Curse on Stanley's family.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: The hole-digging plot, the Madame Zeroni/Elya Yelnats/Myra plot, and the Camp Green Lake romance plot.
  • Truth in Television: There are many juvenile correction camps in the US that are just as bad, if not worse than the one in this story.
  • Tunnel King: Zero.
  • Unfortunate Implications: Invoked In-Universe. X-Ray and many of the other campers get angry at Stanley because Zero, a black boy, is helping Stanley dig his holes, though the reader knows that's not Stanley's intention and Zero was the one to suggest the deal.
  • Unperson: To keep themselves for being responsible for Zero's potential death in the desert, the Warden orders his files deleted from the computer. The task is easier because Zero was a ward of the state with no family. But it backfires miserably.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Trout Walker, after searching MANY years for the treasure.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Kate and Sam.
  • Why Isn't It Attacking?: Stanley and Zero fall into a pit of yellow-spotted lizards. But they don't attack, and it's implied it's because they were repelled by the boys' onion diet.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Kissin' Kate Barlow. Originally just a schoolteacher in 19th-century Texas, she eventually falls with the the black onion seller, Sam. This results in not only a mob burning down the school, but Sam is sentenced to death for kissing a white woman. She then becomes the most notorious outlaw in the Wild West. Her first kill is the sheriff who offered to not kill Sam in exchange for a kiss.
    • To a certain extent, the Warden counts as well. She had a rough childhood due to her grandfather abusing her and forcing her to dig nonstop for the treasure Kissing Kate robbed, not even being allowed to stop for Christmas. Evidentially, this lasted to her adulthood.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Too much time passes, relative to the number of generations stated, between the time of Kissin' Kate Barlow and the main characters.
  • You Fail Law Forever: Stanley not having a lawyer. Even if the family was too poor to afford one (the reason given as to why he didn't have one during the trial), he should have had a public defender assigned to him anyway.
    • Stanley gets to keep the orange jumpsuit as he leaves Camp Green Lake, which is forbidden in the real life and can ironically result in regaining your sentence.


Small Steps provides examples of:
  • Adults Are Useless: Armpit's parents seem unable to believe that their son has become a better person. Kaira's mom throws everything to her husband. The husband tries to kill her.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Kaira De Leon, and her stepfather, El Genius.
  • Batman Gambit: Kaira hates her bodyguard Fred and regularly tries to ditch him. El Genius had hoped for this, so that he could murder her in secret and not get the blame for it since he was the one who hired Fred.
    • This was also done earlier in the book, as it's revealed the story about how Kaira's tickets sold for $750 in Philadelphia was planted by El Genius to increase demand for them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kaira is saved, but she not only has memory loss but her voice is damaged and she is financially ruined. It is said that she starts singing again, so there is hope for her to recover her old life.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: To Armpit, Kaira opens up almost instantly, but it takes an entire murder attempt for her to open up to her bodyguard.
  • Demoted to Extra: Stanley is only mentioned once, and not even by name.
  • Disability Superpower: Ginny is implied to be good at math.
    • Each of her stuffed animals are also disabled, with some kind of hidden talent.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Armpit got into Camp Green Lake because he beat up a group of boys who tripped him and made him spill his popcorn.
  • Dude, Not Funny: In-universe. El Genius jokes about how Ginny went into a seizure, causing the cops to think Armpit had given her drugs. Kaira hates this, and personally requests to see them.
  • Fail O'Suckyname: El Genius, Kaira's stepfather, real name being Jerome Paisley.
    • One of Armpit's goals is also to try to lose his nickname.
  • Flipping the Bird: A jogger does this to X-Ray after he flirts with her from his van.
  • Hidden Depths: Of all the characters of Holes, did you really think Armpit would be the kind, thoughtful one?
    • The movie actually implies it, by giving Squid/Alan's lines at the end to him (in which he gives Stanley a phone number and tells him to call his mother and tell her he's sorry for something).
  • Idol Singer: Keira De Leon.
  • Innocent Innuendo:

Armpit: "Did you tell her my nickname?"
Ginny: "I just told her it was a part of the body."

  • Insistent Terminology: X-Ray insists that "X-Ray" isn't his nickname, it's actually his name in another language.
  • Jerkass: X-Ray has clearly learned nothing from his experiences at Green Lake.
    • And El Genius.
  • Morality Pet: Ginny to Armpit. Also counts as a sort of Littlest Cancer Patient.
  • The Not-Secret: Debbie finds out Armpit was one of the ticket scalpers, but doesn't arrest for it because "As I said, case closed."
  • Police Are Useless: Trying to get into a concert with tickets you didn't know were fake apparently constitutes being beaten with police batons.
    • Well, also because Ginny goes into a seizure and the police think Armpit drugged her.
    • Averted with Debbie, who is shown to be a very capable policewoman.
  • Properly Paranoid: Keira believes her stepdad was sending the death threat letters. He was. And tries to kill her.


Stanley Yelnat's Guide to Surviving Camp Green Lake provides examples of:
  • Berserk Button: Don't touch anything in a camper's private box. Or Zigzag's TV.
  • Beware the Nice Ones
  • Chekhov's Skill: Zigzag may be stuck in a Groundhog Day Loop, but thanks to it he always knows what the time, day, and date is.
  • Don't Ask: The default answer for every question about an injury at Camp Green Lake is: "I slammed the tent door on it."
  • Downer Ending: The in-universe reason why the guide is being written is that people read Stanley's account of Camp Green Lake, and thought that it was such a great idea, they should open another one.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Armpit has a suggestion about the showers, that the four-minute shower should be changed so the water sprays for a minute, stops for one minute to allow them to apply soap, then restart for three minutes to finish. The suggestion is taken, but instead of three minutes of water, there are now only two, allowing the Warden to save a minute of water each.
    • Also how Camp Green Lake got reopened. Stanley published his book, officials read it, thought "What a great idea!", and reopened the camp and another camp with the original staff back in charge.
  • Groundhog Day Loop: Not the camp, but Zigzag, who keeps a TV guide from the week of March 22nd, 1986 and reads it daily, informing everyone what will be on TV "tonight".
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: E-Z. Then he meets Zig-Zag.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Magnet tries to escape by grabbing onto the supply truck and hitching a ride to freedom. When he turns up at dinner hours later, he merely asks for the ketchup and the others comply and never ask about it.
  • Maybe Ever After: Stanley is implied to have a girlfriend now.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: "Magnet told Armpit where to stick his next idea, and it wasn't in the suggestion box."
  • Non-Indicative Name: Armpit is explained to have gotten his name not from being smelly, but because a scorpion stung him in the armpit and he wouldn't stop complaining about it.
  • The Not-Secret: Stanley leaves Zero's name and history when going through the campers' bios, but anybody who read the previous book should know his story.
  • Not What It Looks Like: X-Ray was arrested for selling what everyone thought was cocaine and marijuana, but it turned out to be chopped up aspirin and parsley. However, selling aspirin without a pharmaceutical license was still illegal.
  • Playing with Fire: Zigzag got arrested because he was burning Styrofoam on his school's lawn, only for the flames to get out of control and burn down one of the classrooms.
  • Serious Business / Disproportionate Retribution: Zigzag is obsessed with the broken TV in the wreck room, even though it never plays anything. E-Z tries "changing the channel" and Zero smashes his hand into the dial button so hard it cuts his hand open.
    • E-Z himself got into Camp Green Lake for beating up a man and his dog because the dog pooped in front of his skateboard.
    • By default, any of the personal items in a camper's box are immediately off-limits.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Twitch. On his very first day he decides to go poking through all the campers' boxes, blab to all the bunkmates, mouth off to the counselors, dig too fast and get himself tired, guzzle down all his water and run out when he needs it, get dirt in the camper's holes, and just as Stanley is escaping on the car, he hears Twitch say: "Hey, everyone check out this awesome lizard!"