Holes Summary

Louis Sachar


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Holes Summary

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Louis Sachar’s 1998 children’s novel, Holes, tells the story of a boy accused of stealing. He is sentenced to eighteen months in a camp where a tyrannical warden has the boys digging seemingly random holes.

Stanley Yelnits is a fourteen-year-old boy whose family claims it is cursed due to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” This curse causes his conviction for stealing a pair of tennis shoes owned by a famous athlete and donated to a charity. This curse sends him to a detention facility in the middle of the desert for eighteen months.

The boys at the detention center are required to dig a whole five feet wide and five feet deep every single day they are there. According to the Warden, this builds character. The boys are instructed to pay careful attention while digging; they will be rewarded for bringing the Warden anything interesting.

From here, the story moves back to the nineteenth century, to the time of Stanley’s grandfather Elya Yelnets. Elya is desperately in love with Myra, but she has also attracted the attention of an older pig farmer, Igor Barkov. He has offered Myra’s father his heaviest pig in exchange for permission to marry Myra.

Elya does not like this. He goes to his friend Madame Zeroni, who warns him that Myra is not very intelligent; but, like all people in love, he does not listen. She gives him a tiny piglet and tells him that if he climbs the mountain with the piglet every day and lets the pig drink from the spring while singing to it, the pig will soon be bigger than Igor’s. Once this happens, he has to promise to carry Madame Zeroni to the top of the mountain so that she can drink from the spring.

Elya promises and takes the piglet every morning up the mountain. He almost wins Myra’s hand, except his and Igor’s pigs are the same size. Myra is given the choice, but she cannot choose. Instead, she directs them to guess the number she is thinking of, but Elya has had enough. He forgets his promise to Madame Zeroni and moves to America, but Zeroni’s curse follows him, affecting his entire family. The song he sang to the pig becomes a family lullaby.

The story then moves to the history of Kissing Kate Barlow. It is 1888, and Kate Barlow, a local teacher, falls in love with a local, African-American onion seller, Sam. When she is seen kissing Sam, there is uproar; Sam is arrested, and a mob burns down the schoolhouse.

Kate and Sam try to cross the lake to escape, but Trout intercepts them and sinks the boat. Sam is shot, and Kate is rescued against her will. After Sam dies, no rain falls on the town again.

Kate becomes an outlaw who leaves a trademark “kiss” on those she robs. She robs Stanley’s great grandfather, but instead of killing him, she leaves him in the desert where he is eventually rescued. Stanley is taken to the hospital where he meets and falls in love with a nurse whom he marries.

Twenty years later, Kate goes back to a little cabin, but Trout and his wife, who are broke and desperate for money, intercept her. They try to force her to tell them where she keeps her stolen loot, but she is bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard, and dies taunting them, saying, “Dig a hole.”

Back at Camp Greenlake, it is clear the Warden is looking for something in particular while the boys are digging holes. During one dig, Stanley finds a tube of lipstick that once belonged to Kate Barlow, but he gives it to X-Ray, the leader of Tent D, who convinces Stanley that he needs it more.

The Warden is excited by the discovery, and they sift through X-Ray’s hole mistakenly believing that this is where the lipstick was found. Meanwhile, Stanley becomes friends with Zero, a boy also living in Tent D. Stanley agrees to teach Zero how to read and Zero will dig part of Stanley’s hole every day. When Zero gets into a fight, the Warden decides to leave him to die in the desert. Stanley finds him and notices a mountain that looks like a fist. He remembers something his grandfather said. They climb the mountain and find Sam’s onion field. They return to Stanley’s hole and find a suitcase. The Warden tries to take it from him, but Stanley and Zero are surrounded by yellow spotted lizards.

They stay in the hole overnight, and in the morning, an attorney comes demanding Stanley’s release. They open the suitcase and discover Kate’s loot. The family’s fortunes turn around, and rain comes again to the city.

One theme is that of fate and free will. Is it really a curse that puts Stanley in this position? Despite what anyone might believe, the past seems to have a huge effect on the family’s fortunes, whether the curse is real or not.

Another theme is that of power. The Warden has power over the boys; within the camp, the boys have their own power plays. The curse has power over Stanley. A driving factor of the book is Stanley’s grapple with the concept of power in the real world. Sometimes, in spite of what we do, bad things happen. But sometimes the inverse is true, and everything is set right again.