"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 Newbery Medal-winning children's novel by Louis Sachar. 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 with the same width and depth. 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 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.He also wrote a guide to surviving Camp Green Lake, narrated by Stanley.
These books provide examples of:
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Addiction Displacement: Mr. Sir is constantly snacking on sunflower seeds in an effort to give up smoking. At the end of the book he lapses back into smoking again.
Shia LaBeouf, Stanley's actor, also mentioned in an interview that he tried "gobbling down Twinkies" in order to gain the weight, but Sachar himself told him that it was more important that he focus on depicting the character's diffidence.
The Alcatraz: There's nothing stopping a kid from escaping from Camp Green Lake, but the escapee will die of dehydration, seeing as the camp is in the middle of nowhere. A very arid middle of nowhere.
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... You wanna run away, them buzzards'll pick you clean by the end of the third day.
Arranged Marriage: Elya Yelnats 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.
Artistic License - Law: 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.
There have been juvenile court judges who have been removed after it was found they took bribes from owners of abusive juvenile camps and were accordingly much more likely to sentence juvenile offenders. This might explain the Kangaroo Court trail for Stanley, especially if the family dismissed the public defender for deliberately not doing a good job, and why Zero never even got a hearing.
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.
Bath Of Poverty Stanley is shown in a cold open shower with the water shutting off halfway through.
Berserk Button: After Mr. Sir is slashed across the face by the Warden's venom coated nails, a camper asks him about his swollen wound the next day and promptly gets yelled at for it. Everyone quickly learns to not ask about it again.
Better to Die than Be Killed: In the film, 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. It's also implied that he would have tortured her for the information.
Her grandfather Trout Walker might be considered the Bigger Bad, since although he's long-since died, it's his actions many years ago that both created the situation and plot of the story and made the Warden who she is (she is, after all, essentially driven to fulfill the goal he started).
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A male example, Mr. Pendanski. A doctor, he acts as if he really wants to help the boys, and he takes on the nickname "Mom". But he's not really a doctor, and he treats Zero like crap. Later, he is willing to let Zero die to avoid scrutiny by the authorities. He was even willing to let both Zero and Stanley die at the orders of the Warden, when the kids were trapped with yellow-spotted lizards.
Brainless Beauty / Dumb Blonde: Myra Menke. Madame Zeroni says her head is "emptier than a flower pot". But Elya is too entranced by her beauty but abandons her when he sees she's too dumb to choose between marrying him or The Igor. Though, at least in the film, she didn't look too happy being stuck with Igor.
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 girls' camp.
Call Back: The opening narration remarks that if you get bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard, "there is nothing anyone can do to you anymore". When Kissin' Kate Barlow dies by a yellow-spotted lizard's bite, the narration comments that "there was nothing anyone could do to her anymore."
Canon Foreigner: Stanley's grandfather, Stanley Yelnats II, in the film. Mostly due to being the only Yelnats that didn't appear in the book.
Cassandra Truth: Real Life example from the commentary of the film. Khleo Thomas, who plays Zero, tries to explain to his fellow D Tent actors the reason why Zero is in Camp Green Lake (stealing a pair of shoes from Payless, arriving before Stanley because Zero didn't get a court hearing). They don't believe him, due to confusion over the time frame.
Curse Cut Short: Stanley nearly says the "F-Word" when he sees Mr. Sir pointing his pistol at him, which in reality turns out to be at a deadly yellow-spotted lizard.
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 It Yourself" Theme Tune: "Dig It" for the movie, which is sung/rapped by the boys of Camp Green Lake, notably Stanley, Zero, X-Ray, Armpit, and Zigzag.
Do Not Call Me Paul: The boys insist on being called on their nicknames. Stanley wonders why anyone would insist on being called "Armpit".
Disproportionate Retribution / Rage Breaking Point: The campers are accused of getting much lazier after the Warden personally oversees their digging area, and she gets very annoyed and claims they're barely doing any digging now at all even though they've had to do more since she took charge of them. Once Armpit returns, telling her he left to use a restroom, she stabs him with a pitchfork. Luckily it's Only a Flesh Wound.
She also slashed Mr. Sir's face just for wasting her time about Stanley covering up for someone over Mr. Sir's sunflower seeds. Then, Mr. Sir takes it out on Stanley (or anyone who mentions his scar).
Driven to Suicide: In the film, Kissin' Kate lets a yellow-spotted lizard bite her, only to spite Trout. (In the book, the lizard was a lucky accident.)
Earn Your Happy Ending: Stanley is proven innocent, Zero is rescued and freed, the two receive Stanley Yelnats the First's treasure, the Yelnats buy a new house, Zero reunites with his mom, Clyde Livingston befriends Stanley, rain returns to Camp Green Lake, which is closed and turned into a Girl Scout camp. A lot of luck for the world's most unlucky family.
Establishing Character Moment: None of the bad guys make very good first impressions on the audience; Mr. Sir might as well have "I'M A VILLAIN" (or at least "I'M A JERK") stamped on his forehead, Mr. Pendanski acts all amicable only to throw an insult in Zero's face in the most disgustingly perky tone, and The Warden slashes her own employee with her Femme Fatalons tipped with rattlesnake venom.
Ethnic Magician: Madame Zeroni is an old Egyptian woman with dark skin and a very wide mouth. She puts a curse on Elya and his descendants for not carrying her up the mountain so she can drink from the stream.
Mr. Pendanski pretends to be the nice guy, and the boys even give him the nickname "mom", but his true attitude shows later on, especially in his treatment of Zero, who he mocks openly and takes advantage of every chance he gets. The Survival Guide lampshades this trope by pointing out that Pendaski pretending to be a good person makes him worse than Mr. Sir.
The Warden herself can sound very friendly and casual, but it's all in a passive-aggressive way that immediately lets whoever is hearing know she's definitely in charge.
Femme Fatalons: The Warden paints her nails with polish made from rattlesnake venom (and then scratches Mr. Sir with them when they are still wet, causing him severe pain and injury).
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. The way to lift the curse is hereditary as well. Madame Zeroni's part of the deal was for Stanley's ancestor to carry her to the top of a nearby mountain to drink from the spring so she may become strong. A century later Stanley carries the woman's descendent to the top of a mountain where he can drink from the spring, fulfilling the Yelnats part of the bargain and lifting the curse.
Kate Barlow told the Warden's grandfather that he, his children and his children's children could dig for the next 100 years and never find her treasure. Exactly 100 years later it was found by another and the Warden was arrested without even seeing it.
Hidden Agenda Villain: The camp is actually a scheme by the Warden to uncover Kate Barlow's treasure without having to dig up the whole desert herself.
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 was already upset for Kate rejecting him, but gets very furious that she chose a black man.
The Igor: Elya's rich rival suitor. His name is also literally Igor!
I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Near the end of Holes, as Stanley and Zero are being driven home from Camp Green Lake, Zero openly admits that he committed the theft Stanley was wrongly arrested for. Their driver and legal counsel turns in her seat and tells him: "I didn't hear that. And I advise you to make sure I don't hear it again."
Miss Katherine: It's so hot, Sam, but I feel so cold...
Implausible Deniability: Stanley denies that anything major happened after Mr. Sir took him to see the Warden. Even after Mr. Sir shows up the next day with a swollen wound on his face.
I Never Told You My Name: Having never seen the Warden before when she turns up to inspect X-Ray's discovery, Stanley is surprised to find she knows his nickname "Caveman". The other campers tell him that it's because she has hidden cameras and microphones around the camp, which Stanley thinks sounds ridiculous but can't shrug off the worry that it could be true.
Inventor of the Mundane: The father spends the entire movie 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.
Irony: When a woman spotted Katherine and Sam kissing each other, she tells them "God will punish (them)!" After Sam was murdered, it stopped raining at Green Lake and it dried up becoming a barren desert. Who did God punish, indeed?
Laser-Guided Karma: The Warden, Mr. Pendanski, and Mr. Sir end up in legal trouble in the end.
The people of Green Lake are driven away due to no rain and the lake drying up, which happened not long after Sam's murder.
Stanley teaching Zero how to read prevents him from getting cheated out of the money belonging to his family.
Legend Fades to Myth: The main character says that he had a great-great-grandfather who had stolen a pig from a one-legged Roma woman, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants. The book tells us that it was actually that his great-great-grandfather had been given a pig by an old Egyptian woman missing a foot — who was also a friend of his. He was supposed to carry her up a mountain and let her drink from a stream. If he failed to do this he and his descendants would be doomed for all of eternity.
Not that much in the overall film, though. Several of the darker scenes are also in the DVD. For example, in the film and book, Kissin' Kate Barlow goes through a full-blown Sanity Slippage and the killings are completely random.
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.
Camp Green Lake is neither green nor a lake.
Non-Nude Bathing: In the film, Stanley bathes with his swim trunks on (the book doesn't specify if he bathes naked or not). Justified, though, since the shower has no walls and it's rumored to have hidden security cameras.
Oh Crap: Mr Sir at the end of the film and stated by him each time. 1. When Stanley's lawyer and the Attorney General return. 2. When the Attorney General reocgnises him and uses his real name, Marion Sevillo. The first time you don't see his face when he says it. The second time, you definitely do.
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.
Parental Love Song: The original version of the lullaby encourages a child in spite of the troubles that that child will face.
Be strong, my weary wolf
Turn around boldly
Fly high, my baby bird
My angel, my only
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".
Pragmatic Adaptation: The film adds Stanley's grandfather, who was mysteriously the only Yelnats generation not mentioned in the book, to handle exposition on the family's backstory. Also, Kissin' Kate Barlow is made more sympathetic by only killing the people who were involved in Sam's death rather than random innocents.
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.
Repeat What You Just Said: Stanley's grandfather asks Zero him to confirm if he just said his last name is Zeroni, realising his grandson had fulfilled his cheating ancestors bargain and lifting the curse.
Scarpia Ultimatum: G-rated version where the Sheriff half-heartedly 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.
Shaggy Dog Story: The Warden and her ancestors have spent decades trying to find Kate Barlow's treasure in the dried ruins of the lake (which she even mentions her father forced her to dig through most of her childhood, even Christmas) so much so that the whole point of the camp was to use kid labor to do the dirty work and find the treasure faster. In the end all that effort was wasted as not only does she not get the treasure chest, Stanley denies her the dignity of even looking inside it. Ouch.
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.
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.
Terrifying Pet Store Lizard: In the film, the deadly yellow-spotted lizards are clearly played by bearded dragons, which are harmless and popular as pets. Averted using CGI in the moments when a lizard has to act particularly menacing.
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.
The Stinger in the movie version: At the very end of the credits, Hector "Zero" Zeroni quotes the curse his great-great-great-grandmother made with her accent and speech patterns.
Third Line, Some Waiting: The hole-digging plot, the Madame Zeroni/Elya Yelnats/Myra plot, and the Camp Green Lake romance plot.
Thirsty Desert: Camp Green Lake is smack in the middle of one of these. Mr. Sir lampshades it.
Mr. Sir: Tell me, boy, do you see any fences or guards? No? We don't need them. You wanna know why? We've got the only water 'round here for a hundred miles in any direction. Go ahead and run away, I'm not gonna stop you. But without water, you'll be buzzard food in three days.
Unfortunate Implications: Invoked In-Universe. X-Ray and many of the other campers get angry at Stanley because they think he's another white boy sitting around while the black boy, Zero, does all the work, though the reader knows that's not Stanley's intention and Zero was the one to suggest the deal of digging part of Stanley's hole. Sadder still, they only learn the truth once Stanley and Zero are confronted by the Warden and Mr. Sir, whom they tell what's been going on.
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.
Vengeful Widow: Kissin' Kate Barlow began her crime spree after her black lover Sam was killed for kissing her. Her first victim was the sheriff who failed to prevent the mob from killing Sam.
Where Da White Women At?: Miss Katherine, the school teacher, fell in love with Sam, the onion man. He was seen kissing her. When the people heard, they stormed the schoolhouse. Miss Katherine ran to the sheriff's office but her told her that it's against the law for a Negro to kiss a white woman. Katherine tried to get away with Sam but they shot and killed him.
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.
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. Evidently, 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.
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.
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, with some difficulty, 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. Apparently he gave Armpit lots of free boxes of Sploosh.
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.
Disability Superpower: Ginny is implied to be good at math. Each of her stuffed animals are also disabled, with some kind of hidden talent.
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.
Everybody Knew Already: Debbie finds out Armpit was one of the ticket scalpers, but doesn't arrest for it because "As I said, case closed."
Fail O Sucky Name: El Genius, Kaira's stepfather, real name being Jerome Paisley. Kaira also nicknames her bodyguard "Doofus".
One of Armpit's goals is 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).
I Have This Friend: Played with. Kaira thinks Armpit is doing this when he attempts to explain the situation.
I Never Told You My Name: Armpit is confused to hear Kaira sing "Oh, you'd never guess, Armpit, [I'm a] damsel in distress." It's actually a Mondegreen saying "I'm but". Kaira actually sings his version later.
Cut Himself Shaving: The default answer for every question about an injury at Camp Green Lake is: "I slammed the tent door on it."
This point is further emphasized when a quiz is held asking the reader how you got a black eye. Was it from a fight? Stepping on a shovel? Not bathing? The right answer is still "The tent door slammed in your face."
Everybody Knew Already: Stanley leaves Zero's name and history when going through the campers' bios, but anybody who read the previous book should know his story.
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.
X-Ray adapted too well to Camp Green Lake and essentially became its inmates' leader. Now that his sentence is over, he has to return to school and finds it difficult to readjust to the outside world.
"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".
Irony: After leaving Camp Green Lake and having access to a working TV again, Zigzag doesn't watch any shows. "There's nothing good on anymore."
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.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Armpit's idea for the showers was intending to make them a minute longer. They ended becoming a minute shorter.
Barf Bag recovered from his snake bite, but ran away from the hospital because he thought they'd send him back to Camp Green Lake. He was unaware that his time in recovery counted as time for his prison sentence, and he had in fact completed it all. Now he's a fugitive.
Non-Indicative Name: Armpit is explained to have gotten his name not from being smelly, but because a scorpion once stung him in the armpit and he wouldn't stop complaining about it. (In the movie, it is because he's smelly.)
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.
Pragmatic Villainy: Even though Mr. Sir went out of his way to make Stanley's life miserable after the incident with the Warden, he doesn't punish Twitch at all when he rudely interrupts him. Stanley figures this is probably because he knows Twitch is going to be suffering anyway once he starts digging his first hole.
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 Zigzag smashes his hand into the dial button so hard, the ridges on it cut 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!"
Unwinnable by Design: The book has several quizzes, but most of them don't even have the correct answer. And the first quiz is very counter-intuitive.: Your canteen has a leak. Do you A. Angrily smash your canteen. B. Quickly guzzle your water. C. Ask for a new canteen. D. Turn the canteen so the hole is on the top and drink from it that way. Answer: D is wrong; Dirt will get into your canteen and some water will eventually leak out. C is wrong; the counselor will just suggest you try D. The correct answer is B then A. The Warden knows you can't dig without water. You will be given a new canteen.