Literature / Holes

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Can you dig it?

"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 was 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.

He also wrote a guide to surviving Camp Green Lake, narrated by Stanley.


These books provide examples of:

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    Holes 
  • 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.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the book, Stanley is fat; his nickname, Caveman, is derived from his being a big guy. In the movie he's played by a young and skinny Shia LaBeouf.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Inverted. Being written by the original author, the film has some minor fixes to cover up plot holes in the book.
    • In the book it's never explained how X-Ray tells apart his special shovel from anyone else's, since his eyesight isn't very good and Stanley thinks it's no shorter than any of the others. In the film, it has a orange stripe painted on it unlike all the other shovels.
    • In the book Stanley finds his way back to the hole where he found the lipstick tube, but it's not clear how he found it in the dark of night amidst so many other holes. In the film he finds a large rock inside the hole, and puts it by the dirt pile to mark it for later.
  • Agony of the Feet: Barfbag manages to get out of Camp Green Lake before Stanley's arrival (his departure leaves a vacancy which Stanley fills) by taking off one shoe and sock and tempting a rattlesnake to bite his foot. Can't blame him for screaming (in the film, we only hear this from Zero in the book).
  • The Alcatraz: There's nothing stopping a kid from escaping from Camp Green Lake, but the escapee will end up dying 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.
  • Alliterative Name: Myra Menke, and her father Morris Menke. Also the bully who picked on Stanley in school, Derrick Dunne, only in the book and in one of the film's deleted scenes.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The Yelnats family. At least in the book. The movie makes it more explicit, with the grandfather dropping the occasional Yiddish. In fact, "Elya" is Louis Sacher's Hebrew name.
  • Amusing Injuries: Zero whacking Pendanski across the face with a shovel. Also, in the film, Mr Sir falls into a hole when Stanley steals the water truck. At the end, when Pendanski goes back to the mess hall to tell the boys they won't have to dig anymore holes if they keep quiet, he falls into a hole too.
    • Averted when Kissin' Kate Barlow allows herself to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard to save her from a worse fate than she would receive from the Walkers.
  • Anachronic Order: In between parts of Stanley's story, it occasionally jumps back in time to tell the stories of Elya Yelnats and Kissin' Kate Barlow.
  • And Starring: Shia LaBeouf gets an "And Introducing" credit. Which is a bit of a cheat: Though this was his first feature film, he was well-known as Louis Stevens at the time.
  • 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.)
  • Arc Words:
    • "Vacancies don't last long at Camp Green Lake."
    • "If only, if only, the woodpecker sighs..."
    • "It's destiny..."
  • Arranged Marriage: Elya Yelnats, Stanley's great-great-grandfather, was in love with Myra Menke, but Myra's father would decide who she was going to marry (Elya or Igor Barkov) depending on the weight of a pig they bring him. When the pigs each man brings is of equal weight, Myra ends up being the one who has to decide between them and 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.note 
    • Stanley gets to keep the orange jumpsuit as he leaves Camp Green Lake, which is forbidden in real life and can ironically result in regaining your sentence.
      • That could easily have been forgiven by the fact that all three of the people running the camp were being arrested. Everyone had other things on their minds.
  • Bath of Poverty: Stanley is shown in a cold open shower with the water shutting off halfway through. The shower only lasts for four minutes, so Stanley quickly learns he better hurry.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted. The protagonist (in the book) is self-conscious and overweight. Also averted from the opposite direction with the vicious Warden, who is played by Sigourney Weaver.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: As the Improvised Weapon and Rage Breaking Point examples show, Pendanski continuously insulting Zero was not the best of ideas.
  • 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. He would have tortured her for the information and she, by her own word, had been wishing she was dead for a while.
  • Big Bad: The Warden.
    • Her grandfather Trout Walker might be considered the Greater Scope Villain, 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 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 in fact becomes a girl scout 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.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Mr Sir: "This ain't a Girl Scout camp."
    • Sam: "I can fix that."
    • The Warden: "Excuse me?"
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Every. Single. Thing that happens across all three stories, no matter how insignificant, has some bearing on the overarching plot. It's for this reason that the book is extremely popular choices for elementary schools to have students read: it teaches them about attention to detail.
    • Taken to a ridiculous extreme in The Film of the Book 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: Stanley is sentenced to Green Lake due to being found guilty for a crime he didn't commit.
  • Co-Dragons: Mr. Sir and Dr. Pendanski to The Warden (though the former is mixed with traits of The Brute and the latter is also The Evil Genius).
  • Cosmic Plaything: The Yelnats family.
  • Creator Cameo: Sachar makes a small cameo as one of the town locals who watch one of Sam's demonstrations.
  • Curse Is Foiled Again: Even more so in the movie as the camp counselors are arrested.
  • 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 aimed 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, Parental Love Song version of the song sung by Zero's mom.
    • Translated Cover Version: The "pig song" was originally in Latvian. When translated in English, it didn't rhyme, so when their son was born, Elya's wife Sarah changed the words so it did. Her version went:
    "If only, if only," the woodpecker sighs,
    "The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies."
    While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
    Crying to the moo—oo—oon,
    "If only, if only."
    Sometime during the past 3 generations, it changed a little, and in the version Stanley III sang to Stanley IV, the second line went
    "The bark on the tree was just a little bit softer."
    The Zeronis, meanwhile, translated it differently, rendering it
    If only, if only, the moon speaks no reply;
    Reflecting the sun and all that's gone by.
    Be strong my weary wolf, turn around boldly.
    Fly high, my baby bird,
    My angel, my only.
  • Deadly Environment Prison: The juvenile detention camp "Camp Green Lake" has no guard towers or fences, and most of the counselors aren't even armed...but the camp is in the middle of the desert, and has the only water for 100 miles. Anyone who wants to leave can leave, only to die of thirst or be forced to come back.
  • Death Seeker: Kissin' Kate Barlow becomes one after twenty years of being an outlaw. In the film, after Trout says by the time he's finished with her she'll wish she was dead, she replies that she has been wishing she was dead for a long time. Moments after she says that, a yellow-spotted lizard bites her and she dies.
  • Dedication: The film is dedicated to Scott Plank, who died during post-production.
  • 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 the 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).
    • While Madame Zeroni had good reason to be miffed about Elya forgetting about his end of their deal, did she really have to curse his completely innocent descendants too?
  • The Dog Bites Back: Zero gets fed up of Pendanski continuously insulting him and when Pendanski gives him a shovel, telling him it will all he will ever be good for, Zero snaps and knocks Pendanski out by whacking him across the face with it.
    • Stanley and Zero at the end when Zero reveals the treasure chest is rightfully Stanley's because it has his name on it (his great-grandfather's name, but because the family always name their sons Stanley, their names are identical), preventing the Warden from getting her hands on it.
  • "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".
  • Don't Look Down: Zero says this to Stanley when the two are ascending the mountain. Stanley does look down, and almost falls off the rock face seconds later when he tries and fails to grab a handhold.
  • The Dreaded:
    Pendanski: Rule number one: do not upset The Warden.
    • The yellow-spotted lizards. Everyone, even the Warden and especially Mr. Sir is terrified of them and for good reason as they're vicious and have the most deadly venom of any animal in Green Lake. The only one to ever show calm in their presence was Kissin' Kate Barlow, and that's only because she had nothing left to live for.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the film, Kissin' Kate grabs a nearby a yellow-spotted lizard and makes it bite her, simply 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, and the two receive Stanley Yelnats the First's treasure. The Yelnats buy a new house and successfully create a wonderful invention, Zero reunites with his mom, Clyde Livingston befriends Stanley, and 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.
  • Embarrassing First Name: In the film, Mr. Sir's first name turns out to be Marion.
  • Entitled to Have You: Trout Walker towards Kate Barlow, big time.
    Trout: "No one says no to Trout Walker!"
    Kate: "I believe I just did."
  • Eureka Moment: "I don't smell anything." How the Yelnats realize their most recent "cure foot odor" concoction worked.
  • 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 in the face 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Despite being quite the Jerkass, Mr. Sir has his moments of decency, and doesn't usually go out of his way to Kick the Dog.
    • Mr. Pendanski pretends to be the nice counselor, and the boys even give him the nickname "Mom", but his true colors show 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 Pendanski's nice guy act makes him worse than Mr. Sir. Oh, and he's a quack—not a real doctor at all.
    • 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.
  • Feet-First Introduction: In the film, the Warden is introduced this way. We first see her boots as she gets out of her Chrysler when X-Ray "finds" the gold tube.
  • 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.)
  • The Film of the Book: Came out in 2003 and very faithful to the source material (helped in great part by Louis Sachar himself writing the screenplay).
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Kissin' Kate Barlow was a sweet and normal school teacher who made delicious spiced peaches and only became the infamous bank robber history remembers her as because her black lover was lynched.
    • The Warden's current activities stem from her horrible childhood under her abusive grandfather's thumb. More specifically, she's the granddaughter of Trout Walker, who went crazy in his search for Kissin' Kate's stash. He forced his children and grandchildren to dig everyday in the lakebed with him for the rest of his life, even on Christmas. And even still, she's obsessed with trying to finish what he started. She's a bitter, cynical and vicious woman, but it's easy to see why.
    • The Justified Criminal seems to be a minor theme in the book. For example, when Zero and his mother were homeless, they fed and clothed 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: A funny moment in the film after Zigzag suggests the Warden has hidden cameras in the showers:
    Magnet: "Hey, I guess that means she looks at me all the time, huh?"
    Armpit: "Man, he said 'cameras and microphones, not 'microscopes."
  • Given Name Reveal: All the boys at camp, but most notably: "My name is Hector. Hector Zeroni."
  • Gold Digger: Linda Miller, one of Kate Barlow's former students, evidently was one as she only married the much older Trout Walker for his money, only for the family to go from Riches to Rags when the drought hit Green Lake.
  • Gypsy Curse: Madame Zeroni's curse.
  • Happy Rain: At the end of the movie, after a century of curse-induced drought, it begins to rain at Camp Green Lake and the guys happily dance in it for a while before Stanley and Zero have to depart.
  • 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 Madame Zeroni's descendant to the top of a mountain where he can drink from the spring, fulfilling the Yelnats' part of the bargain and lifting the curse.
    • It may have just been an accident, but Kissin' Kate Barlow tells Trout Walker (the Warden's grandfather) before she dies that he, his children and his children's children could dig in the dried lake bed 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 cover-up 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.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Near the end, 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."
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: More emotional than physical, but she at least feels pretty dead inside.
    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.
  • Improvised Weapon: Subverted in the film. When it seems Lump and Stanley are about to have a fight, Zero grabs the green 6 ball off the pool table as if to throw it, but when the ensuing fight is broken up by X-Ray, Zero puts the ball back on the table.
    • Played straight later with the shovel Pendanski gives to Zero after insulting him one time too many. Zero snaps and whacks Pendanski across the face with it.
  • 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 was trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers.
  • Ironic Echo: When the Warden asks to see inside the trunk.
    Stanley: "Excuse me?"
  • Irony: When a local woman spotted Katherine and Sam kissing each other (in the book; Trout was the witness in the movie), she tells them "God will punish (them)!" After Sam was murdered, it stopped raining at Green Lake, with the town and surrounding area drying up and becoming a barren desert. Who did God punish, indeed?
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Pendanski.
  • Keet: Twitch. It's in his nickname.
  • Kick the Dog: Pendanski loves doing this to Zero, as does The Warden. While The Warden is worse, she's not around the boys 24/7 like Pendanski.
  • Killer Rabbit: Yellow-spotted lizards.
  • Kiss of Death: Kissin' Kate's calling card.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Warden, Mr. Pendanski, and Mr. Sir end up in legal trouble in the end.
    • An earlier example occurs with Pendanski. Pendanski insults Zero one time too many by giving him a shovel and saying it will be all he will ever be good for. Having reached his Rage Breaking Point, Zero knocks Pendanski cold by whacking him across the face with the shovel.
    • The denizens of Green Lake are on the receiving end of this when they brutally murder Sam. A drought hits the lake and it all dries up. The narration even states that all this can be seen as divine punishment.
    • Trout Walker was one of the people to lead and spearhead the town's mob against Katherine and Sam. He winds up broke during the drought and spends the rest of his days digging for a treasure and never finding it.
    • Stanley teaching Zero how to read prevents him from getting cheated out of the money that belongs to his family. Saving Zero from dehydration and carrying him up the mountain ended the curse on him.
  • 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. However, he failed to do this and he and his descendants would be cursed with bad luck forever.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film in comparison to the book. Especially at the end.
    • 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.
    • The film script was originally written by Richard Kelly, the man who wrote and directed Donnie Darko, and it was very radically different from the book to the point of In-Name-Only. Luckily the studio decided to change writers and go for a much lighter and more faithful script. The original script can be found here.
  • Love Makes You Crazy/Love Makes You Evil: Kissin' Kate after Sam is killed.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the scene with Kate where she's trudging along lonely in the desert, Sam appearing to her could just be a hallucination, or it could be his spirit actually coming to help her cross over. Viewers are free to interpret it as they choose. One strong argument for it to be an actual ghost is when Trout and his wife approach with the goal of forcing Kate to tell them where she buried her treasure, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it instant where Sam sees and reacts to them before Kate even realizes they're present, not to mention that Stanley saw both Sam and Mary Lou during his drive to the camp as they faded away.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Insofar as a species can be this, the film has the terrifying, poisonous yellow-spotted lizards being portrayed by the adorable, friendly bearded dragons.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The Yelnats family's song. The book says the song rhymes and makes sense in its original language.
  • 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.
  • Misery Builds Character: The staff of Camp Green Lake claim the boys are digging holes because it builds character.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: A Subverted Trope. It turns out one of the camp counselors was faking being a doctor.
  • Multigenerational Household: In the film, Stanley lives with his parents and paternal grandfather (Stanley Yelnats II), the only Yelnats generation absent from the book.
  • 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.
  • "Noah's Story" Arc: Joked about. The kids see a cloud in the sky, the first they've ever seen in this arid desert, and start joking about how they need to start building an ark. It's all just to get their hopes up, as Camp Green Lake hasn't had rain for a hundred years. It rains at the end just as the attorney general closes the camp.
  • 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, though it used to be an actual lake— until after the story.
  • 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 recognizes 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.
  • 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.
    • As mentioned above, Book!Stanley is overweight (but loses it due to the strenuous digging), but is quite skinny in the movie. This was due to the fact that it would've been hard to film a teenage actor gradually losing weight over the course of the film.
  • Prisoner's Work: Though more a correctional facility than a prison, the delinquents sent to Camp Green Lake are made to dig very precise holes in the ground from practically dawn until dusk under the pretense of building character.
  • The Quiet One: Zero.
  • Rage Breaking Point: When Pendanski won't stop insulting Zero even after Stanley has revealed that he has been teaching Zero to read, Zero takes the shovel Pendanski gives him and whacks him in the face with it, knocking him out cold.
  • Rags to Riches: The Yelnats family and Zero at the end, crossing over with Wealthy Ever After.
  • 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.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Stanley steals the water truck to try and rescue Zero, right under Mr Sir's nose. He crashes it into a hole, but still, damn!
  • Repeat What You Just Said: Stanley's grandfather asks Zero him to confirm if he just said his last name is Zeroni, realizing his grandson had fulfilled his cheating ancestor's bargain and lifted the family curse.
  • Riches to Rags: The Walker family in the backstory after the murder of Sam.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: The Mary Lou boat found by Stanley and Zero.
  • 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.
  • Schoolmarm: Kate Barlow originally was one.
  • 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 (she even mentions her grandfather forced her to dig through most of her childhood, even on 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: Charles "Trout" Walker and Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston both have terrible foot odor thanks to a foot fungus. Stanley's father in the end comes up with a cure for it.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: Mr. Sir's story in the movie.
    Mr. Sir: "Once upon a time there was a magical place where it never rained. The end."
  • Spanner in the Works: Stanley teaching Zero how to read is what does in the Warden once and for all as Zero is the only one who noticed that Kissin' Kate's stash was kept in a case marked "Stanley Yelnats"—it belonged to Stanley's great-grandfather, but it invalidates the Warden's claims that Stanley stole it from her office.
  • Spoiled Brat: Myra Menke and Trout Walker.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Poor Miss Katherine and Sam.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Squid and Zigzag rat out Stanley to the Warden for him helping Zero learn to read but having Zero help dig his holes. This was after Stanley didn't squeal on the group stealing Mr. Sir's sunflower seeds.
  • 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 by 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, and Green Lake is where Kissin' Kate Barlow buried a chest full of stock market documents that belonged to Stanley's great-grandfather.
  • The Stinger: In the film, 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 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."
  • True Companions: The boys of Camp Green Lake ultimately become this.
  • 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.
    • Lynchings like Sam's were so common at the turn of the 20th century, people not only gathered around them like circuses, they actually sent postcards of them.
  • Tunnel King: Zero.
  • 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. 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—through the other boys don't. 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 from being held 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Trout Walker, after searching many years for the treasure.
  • Villainous Rescue: Stanley's main bully from school, Derrick Dunne, did this for him at the end. Stanley's lawyer Miss Moreano explains that he's being freed because it turned out he has an alibi, which was corroborated by Derrick - Stanley couldn't have stolen Clyde Livingston's shoes because Derrick had dunked one of Stanley's textbooks in the toilet at the same time someone noticed the shoes went missing.
  • Wealthy Ever After: Downplayed. In the book, Stanley and Zero each receive a little less than a million dollars due to the value of the papers from the treasure chest.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Miss Katherine, the white school teacher, fell in love with Sam, the black onion farmer. They're spotted kissing and when the people heard, they stormed Katherine's 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.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Kissin' Kate Barlow. Originally just a schoolteacher in 19th-century Texas, she eventually falls for 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. Evidently, this lasted to her adulthood.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Too much time seems to pass relative to the number of generations stated, between the time of Kissin' Kate Barlow and the main characters.

     Stanley Yelnats' Guide to Surviving Camp Green Lake 
  • Berserk Button: Don't touch anything in a camper's private box. Or Zigzag's TV.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Remember that even the seemingly harmless ones were arrested for good reason.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Stanley notably asks the reader to keep an eye out for Barf Bag, who ran away, and tell him it's safe to come home.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: E-Z. Then he meets Zigzag.
  • Happy Ending Override: At the end of Holes, Camp Green Lake is closed, However, now the camp is open again, and the in-universe reason why the guide is being written is that people read Stanley's book and thought that Camp Green Lake was such a great idea, they should open it again.
  • 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.
  • Maybe Ever After: Stanley is implied to have a girlfriend now.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Where Are They Now: The book ends with a short presentation of all the boys in D-tent, why they were sent to Camp Green Lake to begin with, and what happened to them after they returned to their regular lives. The exception is Zero, whose section just says "For privacy reasons, no information is available" …though from reading Stanley's segment it can be inferred that Zero now attends Stanley's high school, receiving extra tutoring to make up for his lack of formal education but otherwise doing very well (especially at math).


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