I read this book on the strength of the recommendation of my favorite 10-year-old, who said she read it in class and that it was really good. By a stunning feat of emotional fortitude, she managed to not give me any spoilers, so I’ll extend the same courtesy.
The book begins with Stanley Yelnats, named after his father and grandfather and great-grandfather, incarcerated at a boy’s camp after being falsely accused of stealing some old tennis shoes that had been donated by a famous athlete for an auction. At this camp, the boys are expected to dig a hole every day, five feet in diameter and five feet deep, on the dry bottom of an evaporated lake in the middle of Texas.
The real reason why they are digging holes in the desert becomes clear through the stories of Stanley’s great grandfather and of the infamous Kissin’ Kate Barlow, a famous outlaw who once robbed him.
The theme–for those of you who don’t want to read the book and are cribbing synopses off Goodreads to write a book report–is about redemption. Stanley is doing penance for a crime he didn’t commit (stealing the shoes) and he also believes that his entire family has done penance for the crime that his great, great pig-stealing grandfather committed long before he was born.
Unlike most of what I read, this isn’t a fantasy book, though there are somewhat implausible elements in it (beyond the incongruity of the coincidences). There are onions with near-magical healing properties, a methusian donkey, a gypsy curse, and deadly yellow-spotted lizards.
Stanley’s a good character, in that he’s a GOOD character. He always considers others’ feelings, and he tries hard to make the best of his situation, even when it’s patently unfair. The other boys at the camp are also good characters. For the most part, they get along with amazingly few conflicts, such as the men do in great prison escape movies. I found this refreshing.
The book I read has extra materials, such as an essay by the author’s daughter and brother, about what a quiet genius Louis Sachar is. It also has photos from the film, which I didn’t see. Actually, I think I may avoid the film. It was a pretty good book, and I have a hard time seeing how the film could improve on it.
I recommend this for your favorite 10-year-old, no matter what age he or she may be now.