The Best YA Novel of All Time? EW Staff Pick: 'Holes' by Louis Sachar

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As our “Best YA Novel of All Time” bracket continues, we’re unveiling our picks, which didn’t advance as far as we would like. Here’s the case for Louis Sachar’s Holes.

You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.

What else could I have expected for poor Holes, which got knocked out in the first round of the EW YA Bracket Game? It was pitted against Harry Potter, for Madame Zeroni’s sake. You no-good-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather-like voters, how dare you… er… choose the series juggernaut that was obviously going to win that round anyway.

Fine. I guess I forgive you; I’m not Kissin’ Kate Barlow, after all.

Anyway, dear readers, if you haven’t understood a single reference above, then I think it’s best you stop here and visit your local bookstore or library and pick up Holes by Louis Sachar immediately (and feel free to play the film after and bask in the glory of young, pre-Transformers Shia LaBeouf) so you can join the rest of us. Please, for the good of Stanley Yelnats’ legacy, appreciate the brilliance of Holes.

Because here’s the gist: Holes is an absolutely unforgettable tale about a young boy named Stanley Yelnats. And much like the unfortunate circumstance of his quirky story being up against an epic boy wizard’s in the first round (seriously, how could you even…? Sorry, I’ll stop), Stanley is incredibly unlucky. It’s all because of a generations old curse on his great-great-grandfather, and because of a mishap involving a pair of shoes, Stanley is sent away to Camp Green Lake, a detention center that is neither green nor possesses a lake. Instead, he must dig holes to “build character.” 

What starts off as a straightforward saga about a wronged juvenile convict digging massive holes turns into a complex adventure when Stanley realizes they’re not digging holes just for character building — they’re digging holes because the warden’s looking for something. And that something brings all the characters together in imaginative, jaw-dropping, and sometimes even haunting ways. Remember Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski, the camp supervisors? X-Ray, Tent D’s ringleader? The Warden? The “Sploosh”? The yellow-spotted lizards?

All of those elements contributed to what remains my personal favorite YA novel of all time. I’m not saying I failed to enjoy other YA at the same level (believe me, I’m a total Potterhead), just that Holes has always stuck with me, and I think it deserves a second look. It was one of the first books I read for pleasure in elementary school, and it opened my eyes to the — this sounds cheesy but bear with me — wonder of literature.

And that’s one of the points of YA, isn’t it, to foster reading among young people? I’d say Holes did just fine on that front. Of course, another point is to tell a story about a character who deals with growing up, and I’d wager that’s Stanley Yelnats in a nutshell — he starts off as a boy who simply accepts his family’s curse, but over the course of the novel, learns to use his strength to support himself and his friends. Combine that with the humor of Sachar’s writing and the colorful characters we meet, and Holes has everything you could ever need in a YA novel. It’s even got a slight dystopian feel to it with the dry Camp Green Lake setting.

So despite its dismal result in the bracket (if only, if only…), Holes is one YA contender that shouldn’t be ignored. Read it, build some character, and remember: “When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up.”

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