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Literature / Holes

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All spoilers below are unmarked. You Have Been Warned!
You got to go and dig those holes...
Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said,
"You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake."
Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before.

Holes is a Middle Grade Coming of Age novel by Louis Sachar, released in 1998. It was later adapted by Disney into a feature film in 2003, with Sachar as screenwriter and Andrew Davis directing.

When a pair of expensive sneakers seemingly fall from the sky onto the head of impoverished teenager Stanley Yelnats IV, his first thought is that the bad luck that has dogged his family since they came to America generations ago might be ending. He's wrong — the shoes belonged to a famous athlete and were stolen from a charity auction, and with no alibi for the theft, Stanley winds up taking the blame.

Given a choice between juvenile hall and the Camp Green Lake "rehabilitation retreat," Stanley picks the latter, only to find that this "camp" may have been the worse choice — located miles from civilization in the middle of the desert, the boys sent there live in complete squalor, mistreated and belittled by the Camp's shady counsellors, with their days spent doing nothing but digging five-foot-deep holes in the desert over and over to "build character."

As time goes on, Stanley begins to suspect that the counsellors are searching for something — and from there unfolds a complex web of intersecting stories spanning over a century, involving mysterious curses, Wild West outlaws, and buried treasure...

The 2003 film starred Shia LaBeouf as Stanley, his first leading film role. It also featured Sigourney Weaver as the Warden, Jon Voight as Mr. Sir, and several 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.

Holes contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Charles "Trout" Walker forced his children and grandchildren to dig every day in the dried lakebed for Kissin' Kate's loot. He wouldn't even let them take a break on their birthdays or on holidays. This treatment is what led to the Warden (Trout's granddaughter) becoming such a bitter and cynical person.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Sam offers to fix the schoolhouse, Kate jokingly says he can't fill the holes in the roof with onion paste. In the book Sam laughs out loud and in the movie he gives her an appreciative smile before explaining he's a handyman as well as an onion seller.
  • 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, and gets the "Caveman" nickname because he found a fossil and the other boys said he belongs in a cave. The film-makers explain that it would've been very difficult to try and film a fat 14-year-old actor gradually losing a lot of weight, which happens in the book due to all the strenuous hole-digging. Shia LaBeouf 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.
  • Adaptational Explanation: With the screenplay 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.
    • Downplayed with Stanley finding his way back to the hole where he found the lipstick tube. The book does make a point of saying that he "buried the location of the hole into his mind", but it's completely implausible that that would be enough for him to accurately discern the hole against dozens, if not hundreds, of other holes, especially weeks later in the dead of night. In the film he finds a large rock inside the hole when initially digging it, and puts it by the dirt pile to mark it for later.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: X-Ray in the book doesn't welcome Stanley and Hector back from the desert. In the film, he hugs them in relief on seeing that they're alive.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • Sam's death is pretty much the same in both versions, but in the book, Katherine finds Sam before the townspeople do and warns him of the mob. They try to escape together, but Trout's boat catches up to them, and Sam is killed while Katherine is dragged away against her will. In the film, she fails to get to him and witnesses Sam's death from the shoreline.
    • In the book, a local townswoman witnessed Sam kissing Katherine and spread the word. In the film, it's Trout who sees them.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The film includes a scene after Stanley and Zero run away where the other D-Tent members discuss whether they could still be alive.
    • In the book after he runs away Stanley briefly wonders how the Warden will explain his absence since unlike Zero they can't just pretend he never existed due to Stanley's family. The movie adds a scene that reveals the Warden's plan to deal with the situation. : wait a week until they're sure Stanley was dead and then send out search parties.
    • The fate of Mr. Sir: in the book, he just returns Stanley's belongings to him at the end; in the film, he's revealed to be a paroled ex-convict named Marion Savillo and gets arrested again for carrying a gun.
    • At the end of the film, we see the other members of "D" tent at Stanley's house party, hanging out with him. No such thing happens, or is even mentioned, in the book.
    • In the book, the yellow-spotted lizard that killed Kate Barlow showed up out of nowhere and bit her on its own free will. In the film, she grabbed it and made it bite her.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Derrick Dunne (as well as anyone and anything else to do with Stanley’s school) is not seen or mentioned in the movie, save for two deleted scenes.
    • There don't seem to be any counselors other than Mr. Sir and Pendanski in the movie. In the book, Pendanski is the counselor in charge of Stanley's tent and others appear occasionally, notably during the climax of the story.
  • Again with Feeling: After trying yet another time to perfect a deodorant for the feet and subjecting his wife to smelling every single disgusting shoe he's tried his failures on, Stanley's father has his wife smell just one more. She tells him to stop and frustratedly says "I don't smell anything." Realizing that this deodorant works, she happily repeats the line and starts dancing with him.
  • 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 (we see this at the start of 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.
  • The Alcoholic: Green Lake's sheriff is drunk on the job and asks Kate for a kiss when she goes to him for help. Before Kate shoots him, he's drinking a cup of coffee, possibly due to a hangover.
    • Squid bitterly mentions his mother being one in the movie.
  • All for Nothing: The whole purpose of Camp Green Lake is to use the boys to find the Kate Barlow's treasure faster than if the Warden was doing it herself, as she had done through her childhood thanks to her abusive grandfather. Stanley finds the treasure chest, discovers that it rightfully belongs to his family, and the Warden is left with nothing to show for her efforts because Stanley refuses to let her look inside it.
  • Alliterative Name: Myra Menke, and her father Morris Menke. Also, the bully who picked on Stanley in school, Derrick Dunne.
  • 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. On the other hand, Elya being in a village with a pig farm (as pigs aren't kosher, and European Jews generally lived apart from Gentiles), and his descendants all adopting the name Stanley (as Ashkenazi Jews customarily do not name after living relatives, so name suffixes like Jr., III, etc. are relatively uncommon among them) make it less likely. There could be mixed marriages involved (and it's notable that the movie's star, Shia LaBeouf, is himself the child of a mixed Jewish-Christian marriage).
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When Stanley and Zero are stuck in a hole, covered with yellow-spotted lizards, and the camp staff are wondering why the lizards aren't biting, someone suggests shooting them. Immediate response: "The lizards or the kids?"
  • 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, and when the Warden slashes Mr Sir across the face with her fingernails.
  • 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: The film's main cast roll ends with "and introducing Shia LaBeouf". 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..."
    • "I found refuge on God's Thumb."
  • 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 Name: Green Lake used to be a lush lake with a thriving town, but the town dried up with the lake, leaving only a barren wasteland, but it retained the name and the camp was named after it. This is even lampshaded early in the book; when Stanley looks out the window of the bus, the narrator states "He couldn't see a lake. And hardly anything was green."
  • 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 
    • In both the book and the movie, Clyde Livingston's testimony includes him making comments about "what kind of person steals from homeless people" while on the witness stand. That's completely out of line and no real court would allow that; his testimony should have been restricted to identifying the shoes and explaining what he had done with them. If he wanted to make a personal statement, he would have had to make a separate appearance at a sentencing hearing after Stanley was convicted.
    • 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.note 
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Before Hector and Stanley run into the desert at different points, they were on bad terms with the other boys. The rest are genuinely worried and hoping they survive; when Stanley and Hector return alive and with a treasure chest, they get a Group Hug in the film. Later in the film, they attend the Sploosh watch party at Stanley's new house.
  • Bad Boss: The Warden. She warns Mr. Sir and Pendanski at one point that if they can't get the boys to work any harder and faster, the two of them will end up digging with them. Then there's the scene where she slashes Mr. Sir across the face with her fingernails for bothering her about Stanley having apparently stolen his sack of sunflower seeds. And not to mention her treatment of the campers themselves, which can veer from Faux Affably Evil to downright obnoxious.
  • Bait the Dog: Pendanski appears to be a nice enough person when he first meets Stanley, only to reveal a hint of his Faux Affably Evil personality when he dishes out the first of many Kick the Dog moments to Zero.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Homeless Zero’s theft of a pair of shoes sets the plot in motion.
  • 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.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Kate Barlow used to be a sweet schoolteacher who would graciously hand out lessons and spiced peaches to anyone who wanted them. After Trout murdered Sam, and the students' own parents burned down the schoolhouse, Kate Stopped Caring and became a ruthless outlaw. She killed innocent and guilty alike to rob their money and leave them to rot in the desert.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: As the Improvised Weapon and Rage Breaking Point examples show, Pendanski continuously insulting Zero was not the best of ideas.
    • Zigzag also found this out firsthand. Zero, upon seeing Zigzag beating up Stanley, gets his arm around Zigzag's neck and almost strangles him before being stopped by Armpit.
  • 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 in 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. He ultimately gets his comeuppance in the end, when he is arrested along with the Warden and Mr. Sir.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The fates of Mary Lou (Sam's donkey) and the Green Lake sheriff.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: At the end of the film, Stanley prepares to drive away with his family and his grandfather's treasure chest as the Warden, in handcuffs, demands to get a peek of what she believes is rightfully hers. Stanley cooly replies with two words: "Excuse me?"
  • Brainless Beauty: Myra Menke, mixed with Dumb Blonde in the movie. Madam 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.
  • Brand X: The sneakers that got Stanley in trouble were actually called "Brand X". This was because they had x's printed on the back.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: The Yelnats family became this due to Madam Zeroni's curse. It gets averted when Stanley unknowingly breaks the curse.
  • 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."
    • Stanley says that Clyde Livingston's shoes fell from the sky and hit him on the head, which is how he ended up with them. In the film, when Mr Sir discovers his sack of sunflower seeds has been stolen, he sees that Stanley tried to bury the sack and asks him how it got there, sarcastically asking him, "Did it fall from the sky? Huh?"
  • Call-Forward: Twice, we are shown a flashback to Sam selling his onions that gives an answer to something that just happened in the current story line- that is, onions healing stomach bacteria and yellow-spotted lizards being repelled by 'onion blood'.
  • 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. He also made getting out all the exposition without the benefit of book narration much easier.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Stanley is 100% honest at his trial, and later reflects that he might have had better luck in court if he'd lied a little, since the real story is so unbelievable.
    • 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 movie where, by sheer coincidence, it turns out that peaches and onions are the missing ingredients in Stanley's dad's foot-odor cure.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Onions. Sam is Green Lake's onion seller, and he mentions to Kate he has an onion farm on the other side of the lake. Presumably Stanley Yelnats I staved off death by eating onions as he took refuge there. Stanley and Zero later did the same after they ran away from camp. And then, after they find the loot, the copious amount of onions they have eaten repel the lizards crawling over them and preventing them from being fatally bitten.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Stanley Yelnats I's fortune. The family legend is that Kate Barlow stole it from him and stranded Stanley I in the desert. It turns out she buried it and that was her treasure. Zero reads the name on it and is able to claim that it belongs to Stanley IV.
    • Stanley mentions that, when the sky is clear, he can see mountains and hills in the distance of Camp Green Lake. Stanely and Zero later come across these mountains when they're stranded in the desert.
    • An impressive double example. Sam offers to fix the schoolhouse roof, saying he built his boat to be watertight, in exchange for some of Kate Barlow's spiced peaches. She agrees, and starts finding more things for him to fix. The boat is durable; so much so that, a hundred years later, Hector is able to use it as shelter from the desert after he finds it upturned. It also has some of Kate's spiced peaches still in it, which are enough to feed Hector and make him ill until he and Stanley make it to God's Thumb.
    • The hole where Stanley found the gold tube. The tube itself turns out to be half of a lipstick container that previously belonged to Kissin' Kate Barlow. At the end, after Stanley and Zero return to camp, they continue digging in that same hole and it's there that they find her loot.
    • The shovel Zero knocks Pendanski out with. After he does that, he takes the shovel with him when he runs away from camp. This means he has something to use to open the jars of peaches in Sam's boat when using it as shelter, then he uses it to help Stanley climb up a difficult part of the mountain. In the book, Stanley uses the shovel to make the water hole deeper. And finally, when Stanley and Zero return to Camp Green Lake, they still have the shovel with them and thus are able to carry on digging for the treasure straight away. In the film, however, they still have the shovel, but Zero says that it will take too long with only one shovel and goes off to get another.
    • Sam tells Kate he has an onion farm on the other side of the lake. Stanley Yelnats I found it and was able to survive there after Kate robbed him until he was rescued. Much later, Stanley and Zero also climb the mountain and they too find refuge there and are able to survive on the onions and water before they eventually return to camp.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: When Madame Zeroni tries to convince Elya Yelnats not to marry Myra Menke, she mentions that her son went to America. Several generations later, Stanley (Elya's descendant) ends up meeting Hector Zeroni (Madame Zeroni's descendant), allowing him to break the curse.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Teaching Hector to read saves Stanley when he uses his newfound literacy to prove the treasure belongs to Stanley.
  • Clear My Name: Stanley is sentenced to Green Lake due to being found guilty for a crime he didn't commit. The lawyer that his family hires is able to find his alibi easily.
  • 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).
  • Cool Car: Whenever Twitch sees what he calls "a really nice car", he starts twitching and itches to go for a joyride, though he never really plans to steal one. He thinks this of the Mustang convertible he stole that got him sent to Camp Green Lake, and he also thinks this of the Jaguar that Stanley's attorney uses in the film, implying he wants to steal it. Magnet warns him not to ("Don't even think about it, Twitch"). This even forms a Brick Joke, as when the Jaguar drives away at the end, he tries to run after it before being held back by Squid.
    • The Warden's 1958 Chrysler Saratoga coupe in the movie also qualifies. It's revealed in a flashback that it used to belong to her grandfather, Charles "Trout" Walker.
  • Cosmic Plaything: The Yelnats family.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Subverted. Hector apologetically confesses to Stanley that he stole Clyde Livington's shoes when they're on the mountain. He was staying at the homeless shelter and due to not being able to read, he didn't realize they were up for auction. When the cops were looking for them, he tossed them away, which was how Stanley ended up with them. Hector says that if he hadn't stolen the shoes, neither he nor Stanley would be at Green Lake. Stanley disagrees, thanking Hector for doing it because then they wouldn't have met or become friends. And the Yelnats family curse wouldn't have been able to be broken.
  • Creator Cameo: Sachar makes a small cameo as one of the town locals, named Mr. Collingwood, who watches one of Sam's demonstrations.
  • Cruel Mercy:
    • Kate Barlow spared Stanley Yelnats I, but stranded him in the desert. He claimed he survived by "seeking refuge on God's thumb" (actually an onion field with water located on a mountain shaped like a hand giving a thumbs up). Stanley IV's mom points out that Kate could have easily killed him.
    • When Zero whacks Pendanski across the face with a shovel and runs away from camp, the Warden tells Mr. Sir not to shoot him. Mr. Sir replies he wasn't going to, so they abandon him and erase his records, knowing he'll die in the desert without water, because he didn't take his canteen with him.
  • Crusading 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 refused to prevent the mob from killing Sam.
  • 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.
  • Curse Escape Clause: By carrying Zero up a mountain, giving him water (and thus, making him strong, as he was dehydrated at the time) and singing the "Pig Lullaby" to him, Stanley breaks Madame Zeroni's curse on the Yelnats family.
  • Curse Is Foiled Again: Even more so in the movie as the camp counselors are arrested.
  • Dangerous Interrogative: The Warden's catchphrase, "Excuse me."/"Excuse me?" Half the time she says it, it's as a warning.
    [After the Warden tells Mr. Pendanski to refill everyone's canteens]
    "I just filled them a little while ago," said Mr. Pendanski.
    The Warden stared hard at him. "Excuse me," she said. Her voice was soft.
    "I had just filled them when Rex—"
    "Excuse me," the Warden said again. "Did I ask you when you last filled them?"
  • 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 became one after the murder of her lover Sam. In the film, after Trout says he'll make her 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.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: Barf Bag pulled one of these to get out of Camp Green Lake in the hopes of provoking a rattlesnake to bite his foot. To make sure it happened, he took off his shoe and sock first.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Sam and Katherine's romance ends badly, in large part because mixed-race romances weren't looked on too kindly in the 19th century.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Stanley takes the rap for stealing Mr. Sir's sack of sunflower seeds. Mr. Sir, not believing Stanley, takes the case to the Warden, who slashes Mr. Sir's face for wasting her time about it. Mr. Sir consequently denies Stanley water for about a week or so.
  • Die Laughing: In the book at least after Kate is bitten by the yellow spotted lizard, she smiles and says "Start diggin' Trout" and dies laughing at him. In the film, she slightly chuckles.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Stanley probably should have realized that having Zero help him dig his hole each day would not endear him to his fellow campers who were stuck digging their holes all on their own. It's hard to blame D Tent when they end up turning on him completely.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: 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 Madam 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 with Pendanski continuously insulting him and when Pendanski gives him a shovel, telling him digging will be all he will ever be good for, Zero snaps and whacks Pendanski across the face with the shovel, knocking him out.
    • 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 actually, but because the family always name their sons Stanley, their names are identical), preventing the Warden from getting her hands on it. He even repeats her sinister catchphrase "'Scuse me?", then slams the trunk door shut.
  • "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".
  • Do Wrong, Right: As promised, Stanley gives something he finds — a lipstick tube — to X-Ray. He then notices that X-Ray has nearly finished his hole, so he suggests that X-Ray should wait until the next day to show Pendanski or Mr. Sir, so he gets a full day off. After all, it will earn X-Ray more in the long run. X-Ray is impressed enough to follow Stanley's advice.
    • When Stanley steals the water truck, Twitch (who has experience in stealing cars) notices that the truck isn't in gear and yells, "Put it in drive!".
  • 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.
  • Double Standard: When the citizens of Green Lake are preparing to lynch Sam for kissing Kate, she tells the sheriff that they should hang her too, because she kissed him back. He refuses, telling her that it's only illegal for a black man to kiss a white woman, not the other way around.
  • 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 is waiting by Sam's boat, not even bothering to move out of the sun the way Zero did a hundred years later. It's implied she wanted the heat to take her. When Trout and his wife Linda threaten to torture her to find the treasure, 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 breaks the family curse and 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.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: While the rest of Camp Green Lake is a desert, the onion fields at the peak of God's thumb provide an unexpected oasis. This provides Stanley and Zero a place to survive after they escape.
  • 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.
  • 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. The Warden's evil side isn't as obvious in her first appearance, but even though she isn't around much, she's clearly on top of how things work in the camp — she knows who's who, knows everyone's nicknames, and the book indicates she seems to know that Zero is the best digger in the group. Her less pleasant side doesn't take long to emerge.
  • Ethnic Magician: Madam 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.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: "I don't smell anything." How the Yelnats realize their most recent "foot odor cure" concoction worked.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • In the film, Mr. Sir saves Stanley from a lizard that starts chasing him.
    • In the flashback to Kate's story, Linda Miller is willing to help her husband Trout torture "Miss Katharine" to find her robbery money, but she looks a little disturbed when Kate says "I've been wishing I was dead for a long time." Later she's horrified when Kate commits suicide via goading a yellow-spotted lizard to bite her.
    • Downplayed. Pendanski never hesitates to talk trash about Zero or lie about being a doctor, but he won't let Stanley die of thirst because Mr. Sir didn't fill his canteen for two weeks.
    • The Warden sincerely thanks the fugitive boys for finding the treasure shortly before the yellow-spotted lizards appear.
    • In the film, when Stanley and Zero are trapped in the hole and covered in yellow-spotted lizards, Mr. Sir warns Stanley's lawyer and the Attorney General not to approach the hole because of the lizards.
  • Evil Laugh: Madam Zeroni does one after she tells Elya to carry her up the mountain like he did with the pig so she can drink from the stream. The same laugh is heard again when Elya suddenly remembers he forgot to do it, while he's on the boat to America.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Camp Green Lake's warden is only addressed as "the Warden."
  • 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 not a doctor.
    • 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).
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In the book, when Zero and Stanley are standing in the hole filled with yellow-spotted lizards, having found Kate Barlow's treasure, everyone is standing around, waiting for the lizards to get bored and go away, and Zero starts muttering to himself, saying things like "Satan" and "Satan lee", but everyone, Stanley included ignores him, a little preoccupied by the swarm of lizards. Merely a few hours later, he delivers the reveal that the case with the treasure belongs to Stanley because he was vocalizing the syllables just like Stanley taught him to.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first chapter reveals that there used to be a town of Green Lake, which shriveled and dried up along with the lake, as well as everyone who lived there. This is a very important part of the backstory.
    • Soon after arriving at Camp Green Lake, Mr. Sir tells Stanley he won't stop Stanley if he tries to run away. Stanley says he won't try. After Zero snaps and runs away from camp, Stanley eventually runs away from camp himself to try and find him.
    • The gold tube Stanley finds has the initials "KB" on it. They're the initials of Kate Barlow, and it's the loot she stole from Stanley Yelnats I as an outlaw that the camp is digging for.
    • The narration mentions that, although Miss Katherine's spiced peaches were always eaten before winter, they could probably last much longer than that. Zero and Stanley survive off these in the desert, and one hundred and ten years later, some of them were still in semi-safe condition to eat.
    • At one point, the campers witness a storm on the west side of the lake around where the mountains are. This is where God's Thumb turns out to be, and the storms are apparently the reason why the onion farm has continued to flourish after so many years, and why there is also water up there. Hence why Stanley I, and later Stanley and Zero, respectively were and are able to find refuge on God's Thumb.
    • After running away from camp, Stanley comes across a hole filled with yellow-spotted lizards. After he and Zero return to camp, they find the treasure, but then end up covered in lizards. Luckily for them, they survive because of the onions they have been eating, which the lizards are repelled by.
    • The contents of Stanley Yelnats's chest is hinted at in the beginning of the movie when the family discusses his successes with the stock market.
  • For Want of a Nail: A few examples.
    • If Elya had taken his pig up the mountain one last time instead of taking a bath (due to not wanting to present himself to Myra smelling like a pig), his pig would have weighed more than Igor's and he would likely have ended up with Myra. Although it probably worked out better for him; the situation finally opened his eyes to the fact that Myra was not the kind of woman he wanted to marry.
    • If Elya had remembered to carry Madam Zeroni up the mountain before getting on the boat to America, the Yelnats family would not have been cursed.
    • Stanley would never have ended up at Camp Green Lake if Derrick Dunne hadn't stolen his notebook. By the time Stanley fished it out of a toilet, he had missed his bus and had to walk home, leading to him ending up with Clyde Livingston's shoes. He also wouldn't have ended up with said shoes if Zero hadn't stolen them in the first place, or had kept them, or ditched them anywhere except exactly where he did. Zero even says in the film that it's his fault that Stanley ended up at Camp Green Lake.
    • Stanley would also likely have gone to jail if Barf Bag had not elected to provoke a rattlesnake to bite him, as otherwise there wouldn't have been a vacancy for him to fill. As a result, he wouldn't have broken the curse, never met Zero, never found the treasure or reunited Zero with his mother.
    • Kate Barlow wouldn't have become a famed outlaw if Sam hadn't been killed. Stanley Yelnats I would also not have been robbed (at least not by her), and because he met his wife in hospital after said robbery, the three younger generations of Stanley Yelnats would not have been born. Also, she stole Stanley Yelnats I's money after becoming an outlaw and the whole purpose of Camp Green Lake was to find it. Camp Green Lake wouldn't have even existed if it weren't for Sam's death.
    • Stanley's family would be rich and living in California had Stanley Yelnats I not been robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow. As it is, they're poor and stuck living in a tiny apartment in Texas and struggling to keep up with the rent.
      • Again, though, they would not have been born as Stanley Yelnats I met his wife in hospice.
    • The Warden would have gotten the treasure scot-free if X-Ray hadn't told Stanley to give him anything else he found while digging after Stanley's first find of a fossil was rejected, which caused Stanley to give him Kissin' Kate's lipstick tube and tell him to pretend to find it in a different spot that the Warden spends several fruitless weeks ordering the boys to thoroughly dig up.
  • 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 lake-bed 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. The narration lampshades this, saying that the Yelnats family liked the palindrome so much that four generations of sons were named Stanley for that reason alone.
  • Given Name Reveal: All the boys at camp, but most notably: "My name is Hector. Hector Zeroni."
  • Godzilla Threshold: Campers are treated so badly at Camp Green Lake that some deliberately get stung by a scorpion or even bitten by a small rattlesnake so that they don't have to dig a hole for the day. (In real life, small rattlesnakes are deadlier than big ones.) Averted, however, in that they will never willingly get bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard, as there is no antivenom, and so anyone bitten by one would surely die.
  • 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: Madam Zeroni's curse. Subverted in that she was actually Egyptian; the Yelnats family only believes she was Romani, which is one of multiple details they get wrong.
  • Happy Rain: In both the book and the movie, after Sam and Kate are given some posthumous justice in the form of Trout Walker's granddaughter being arrested for her own various crimes, the century-long drought that gripped the Green Lake area comes to an end. In the book, it's a much smaller moment with a single line describing a raindrop hitting the ground; in the movie, the boys 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 Roma drives the plot. The way to lift the curse is hereditary as well. Madam 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 could become strong. A century later, Stanley carries Madam Zeroni's descendant Hector 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 is 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.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Invoked by the narrator. All throughout the story, Mr. Sir taunts the "campers" that Camp Green Lake was in no way a Girl Scout Camp. Once Mr. Sir, Mr. Pendanski, and the Warden have all been arrested and the camp has been closed down, the narrator notes that the camp was purchased and was being developed into an actual Girl Scout Camp.
  • 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, which turns the absence of any records of his existence into a Revealing Cover-Up that leads the Attorney General to investigate and ultimately shut down the camp.
  • Idiot Ball: It appears the Warden and her staff never realized that the treasure could have been found a lot quicker, with a lot less effort, by simply acquiring some state-of-the-art metal detecting equipment...
  • If I Can't Have You…: Charles "Trout" Walker was already upset about Kate rejecting him, but he gets really furious upon seeing she chose the black onion farmer Sam.
  • Ignorant About Fire: In the backstory (revealed in the companion book Guide to Surviving Camp Green Lake), Zigzag was arrested for burning styrofoam on a school lawn until the flames got out of control and burned down a classroom. He insists "I wasn't trying to hurt anyone. I just like watching things burn."
  • 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/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.
  • 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.
  • In-Series Nickname: All of the delinquents have nicknames based on something about them such as Caveman (Stanley, who's fat/finds a fish fossil) and Armpit (Theodore, according to both Small Steps and the Survival Guide it's because he was stung under the arm by a scorpion and then complained endlessly about it, although the movie implies it's for bad body odor), based on their names like X-ray (Pig Latin for Rex) and Zero (real name Hector Zeroni), something they do/did like Magnet (Jose, steals a lot) or Twitch (Brian, extremely fidgety), and their personality (Mom, for Mr./"Dr." Pendanski). The town of Green Lake also has Charles "Trout" Walker (who has incredibly smelly feet) and "Kissin' Kate" Barlow, who kissed the men she killed.
  • Inventor of the Mundane: Stanley's 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, and the odor-eater was a happy accident.
  • Ironic Echo: When the Warden asks to see inside the trunk.
    Stanley: Excuse me?
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston, who has a nasty foot fungus. Coincidentally, it's the same condition that affected Trout Walker a hundred years earlier.
    • Mr. Pendanski's nickname, "Mom", turns out to completely belie his true nature.
    • X-Ray. He got that name solely because X-Ray is Pig Latin for Rex (his real name). It has nothing to do with having good eyesight or anything. In fact, his eyesight is pretty terrible; he wears thick glasses, which are constantly dirty from digging holes all day.
  • Irony: When a local woman spots Katherine and Sam kissing each other (in the book; Trout is the witness in the movie), she declares, "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?
  • It's All My Fault: Zero admits to Stanley that it's his fault Stanley got sent to Camp Green Lake, because he's the one who stole Clyde Livingston's shoes in the first place.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the other campers aren't bad people, they just made some bad choices. In D-Tent, Armpit and Zig-Zag stick out the most.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Mixed with Bitch in Sheep's Clothing - Pendanski puts on the front of the "nice" counselor who wants the boys to reform their ways and reenter society as respectable and law-abiding men, but in reality, he looks down on them as idiots and lowlives and is sadistic and condescending. Zero gets the worst of it, but the other boys aren't spared either. The Survival Guide even notes that this makes him worse than Mr. Sir, who doesn't bother hiding his meanness being a mask of niceness.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The other campers had every right to be angry about the fact Zero was helping Stanley dig his hole while they were all still doing it by themselves. Stanley admits to himself later that he could have easily dug his hole by himself and then taught Zero how to read. He just wanted to get a break.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Derrick Dunne appears to get away with stealing Stanley's notebook. However, he makes up for it by providing Stanley's alibi later to his lawyer, clearing the kid's name.
    • Magnet escapes punishment for stealing Mr. Sir's sack of sunflower seeds because Stanley takes the blame (Mr. Sir found the sack in Stanley's hole).
  • Karmic Jackpot: Stanley overall is a Nice Guy who gives X-Ray the tube he finds and later tries to steal the water truck to deliver it to Hector in the desert. These both pay off in two big ways - the warden's obsession with the lipstick tube makes Stanley realize the initials stand for Kate Barlow and he finds her treasure (a chest stolen from Stanley Yelnats I) as well as claiming ownership. To a lesser extent, Stanley's devotion to Zero and keeping him alive not only breaks the family curse but also allows Zero to realize the chest belongs to his friend by reading the letters on it.
  • 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.
    • For wasting her time about Stanley having apparently stolen his sack of sunflower seeds, the Warden slashes Mr. Sir's face with her fingernails. Fingernails she had just painted with nail polish that has rattlesnake venom in it, which is still toxic when it's wet and only harmless when it dries.
    • When Mr. Sir thinks that Stanley stole his sack of sunflower seeds and ate them all, and the Warden scratches his face for bothering her about it, he takes it out on Stanley by not giving him water for around two weeks when he delivers it. In the film, he does this earlier when he asks Stanley how his sack of sunflower seeds ended up in Stanley's hole, asking him, "Did it fall from the sky? Huh?", that being the same excuse Stanley gives to how he ended up with Clyde Livingston's shoes.
  • Killer Rabbit: Yellow-spotted lizards may look harmless at first, but they hiss and flare their frills when provoked, and unlike scorpion and rattlesnake attacks, no one can survive their bites.
  • Kiss of Death: Kissin' Kate's calling card, since she kisses the men that she kills.
  • Large and in Charge: Inverted with the boys in Group D. X-Ray is the unofficial leader, but he is described as being the second-smallest of the boys after Zero. Stanley is the biggest, followed by Armpit.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • The Warden, Mr. Pendanski, and Mr. Sir end up in legal trouble for their many crimes in the end.
    • Around the middle of the story, Pendanski insults Zero one time too many by giving him a shovel and saying digging holes is 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.
      • While the Warden would also get into deep trouble for ordering it, Mr. Pendanski could potentially face up to 20 years in prison due to attempting to erase Zero ever being at Camp Green Lake by altering state records.
    • 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.
    • Charles "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.
    • A positive example, twice over regarding Stanley's friendship with Zero - teaching Zero how to read prevents him from getting cheated out of the money that rightfully belongs to his family, and saving Zero from dehydration and carrying him up the mountain broke the Yelnats' family curse.
    • The drunken sheriff who tries to pressure Kate into kissing him in exchange for preventing the Green Lake citizenry from mobbing Sam is visited by Kate the morning after, who tells him she's changed her mind about the kiss. Then she pulls a gun on him, gives him barely a moment to react before she shoots him dead, and leaves a lipsticked kiss on his corpse. This inspires her to do the same to her future victims as Kissin' Kate Barlow, being a thorn in the side of law enforcement for the next twenty years.
    • Trout's family was the wealthiest one in town because they owned the lake and most of the property, meaning they controlled a natural resource. In the best case, the lake dries up after Sam dies, and Trout loses most of his fortune.
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: Stanley is innocent of the crime he's charged with, but he looks guilty and can't afford representation, so he gets locked up for it anyway.
  • MacGuffin Blindness: An odd example, where the MacGuffins are a combination of people and things, and all are ignorant to each other until the very end. Stanley Yelnats dismisses his family's story of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather, so he doesn't understand the significance behind Zero's last name being Zeroni (Madame Zeroni cursed said great-great-grandfather for failing to uphold his end of a promise). And while he knows that the lipstick tube with the KB monogram that he found belonged to famed outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow and that they were digging for something in the Texas desert, he doesn't realize why finding the tube was important, though he does make it a point to remember where it was initially found. He eventually sings to Zero as he drinks from a mountain pool, inadvertently breaking the curse on his family, and he and Zero return to where the lipstick tube was found to dig a little further, where they discover the tube was a marker for the location of Barlow's rumored treasure hoard.
  • Magic Realism: If you take the Yelnats family curse to be real, and/or the drought on Green Lake to be literal divine retribution, rather than just a series of extremely unlikely coincidences, then the whole story falls into this. It's a mostly realistic story of prejudice, poverty, the inadequacies of the US penal system... and some very persistent curses.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: All over the place. Technically, there is nothing in the book that couldn't happen in real life note  — but it would take a lot of pretty insane coincidences and instances of both good and bad luck for it to happen the way it did. Or maybe there's something supernatural involved after all. It's ultimately up to you.
    • 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.
    • The whole plot about the curse on Stanley's family also fits this: there's no definitive proof that Madame Zeroni had magical powers and could curse Elya, and the Yelnats family could have simply had spectacularly bad luck by coincidence up until Stanley carried Hector up the mountain.
    • The sudden catastrophic drought Green Lake suffered from may itself have been bad luck and just coincidentally happened after the lynch mob killed Sam, but there are some hints it may very well have been God Himself punishing the people for murdering an innocent man.
    • There's even a line in the book acknowledging this, and how it ultimately doesn't change the story too much no matter what interpretation you take.
      A lot of people don't believe in curses. A lot of people don't believe in yellow-spotted lizards, either, but once one bites you, it doesn't really matter whether you believe in it or not.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: The Yelnats family's song. The book says the song rhymes and makes more sense in its original language.
  • Misery Builds Character: The staff of Camp Green Lake claim the boys are digging holes because it builds character.
  • Mistaken for Thief: Stanley is sent to the camp because he's thought to have stolen a pair of shoes, which he actually just caught from the sky.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: A Subverted Trope. It turns out one of the camp counselors was faking being a doctor.
  • Mordor: Camp Green Lake, which is neither green nor a lake. It used to be, though. By the end of the story, it is implied that it did become a lake again after the curse of the drought was broken with the Walker family being brought to justice.
  • Morton's Fork: X-Ray points out one for Zero after Zero runs away from camp, saying that Zero's dead no matter what he does - if he stays in the desert, he'll die of thirst, and if he comes back, he'll have to face the Warden, who has already decided to unperson him.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The Warden initially tries to claim that the suitcase Stanley and Zero found actually belongs to her and she caught them stealing it. After Zero points out that Stanley's name is on the suitcase, she amends her claim, saying that while the suitcase itself is his, it still has some of her things in it. Nobody is fooled by her attempt to quickly backpedal.
  • 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).
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Warden is only ever known as such in the book. A brief walky-talky conversation between her and Mr. Pendanski in the movie names her Lou (short for "Louise").
  • Never Learned to Read: Zero. Stanley teaching him is a major plot point.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: After Zero runs away, the Warden orders Pendanski to delete every record that he was ever present at Camp Green Lake. Once Stanley and Zero find Kissin' Kate's treasure and Stanley's family attorneys show up to rescue him, Stanley is able to convince the attorney to bring Zero with them, in part because a lack of record means that, in the eyes of the law, Zero was never supposed to be at the camp to begin with, which lands the Warden, Mr. Sir, and Mr. Pendanski in even more hot water.
  • 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.
  • No Name Given:
    • Green Lake's sheriff, who goes nameless in both scenes he appears in, possibly due to how Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep".
    • Subverted with Mr. Sir in the film - the Attorney General reveals his real name is Marion Sevillo.
  • 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.
    • Played with/zigzagged with Camp Green Lake. Currently, it's neither green nor a lake, though it used to be an actual lake — and it becomes one again at the end of 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.
  • No Sympathy: In the film, a flashback near the end shows the Warden as a girl, telling "Trout" Walker (her grandfather) that she's tired of digging. His response: "THAT'S TOO DAMN BAD! You keep digging!"
  • Not What It Looks Like: 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. 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. The narrative also briefly mentions that the camp does not have a disproportionate amount of campers of one skin color over another, dissuading the possibility of racial profiling (at least on the camp's part) and implying that the boys are there for at least committing a crime.
  • Not Worth Killing: In the film, by the time Trout Walker comes across Kate Barlow again since she became Kissin' Kate, she initially prepares to shoot Trout, but then tiredly remarks she's not going to kill him and lazily tosses her gun aside over to him. At that point, she's already a Death Seeker and Driven to Suicide, but given her outlaw M.O. it'd also mean she'd have to kiss him after killing him, which she certainly would not want to do.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Zero tells Stanley that he's not stupid. He just allows everyone to think he is.
  • Object-Shaped Landmass: In both the book and the movie, it's stated that after being robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow and wandering through the desert, Stanley Yelnats I is stated to have found refuge on "God's Thumb". It's rather vague what this statement means until Stanley sees a mountain off in the distance from Camp Green Lake. It seems to look like a gigantic fist giving a thumbs up, and he even holds up his thumb to it to compare. It turns out the rock formation is what Stanley the first meant as God's Thumb.
  • Obliviously Evil: Downplayed. At the start of the book, it's stated that some of Stanley's teachers make cruel comments and embarrass their students without realizing it, as demonstrated by his math teacher, who embarrasses him and another boy by weighing them (Stanley is the heaviest kid in the class, the other kid is the lightest, and unfortunately, Stanley is three times heavier than him) while teaching ratios and writing the result on the board.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The sheriff in the film gets one when Kate pulls a gun on him, right before she kills him.
    • Magnet gets one when he sees the water truck, driven by Mr. Sir, coming back, realizing his sack of sunflower seeds is missing (Magnet stole it minutes earlier). Stanley then gets one when he fails to catch the sack when Zigzag throws it to him, and he frantically tries to bury it.
    • Stanley and Zero after they find the treasure, first when the Warden appears with Mr. Sir shining a flashlight at them, and then when they see the many yellow-spotted lizards in the hole with them.
    • Mr. Sir at the end of the film and stated by him each time. First is when Stanley's lawyer and the Attorney General return. Second is 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: 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...
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Averted. Although the boys only refer to each other and later to Stanley by their nicknames, Pendanski refers to all of them, bar Zero, by their real names. Towards the end, however, he refers to Zero by his real name Hector. In Small Steps, we even get two of their surnames: Johnson for Armpit, and Washburn for X-Ray. Subverted by Mr. Sir in the film, too - his real name turns out to be Marion Sevillo. Cue an Oh, Crap! from him when the Attorney General recognizes him and uses his name.
  • Only One Name:
    • Aside from Stanley and Zero, all the boys of group D are referred to either by their nicknames (by each other, Mr. Sir and the Warden) or their real first names (by Pendanski - they are: X-Ray = Rex, Armpit = Theodore, Squid = Alan, Magnet = Jose, Zigzag = Ricky, Zero = Hector, Twitch = Brian, and Barf Bag = Lewis). As mentioned above, we find out two of their surnames in Small Steps. Armpit's real full name is Theodore Johnson, and X-Ray's is Rex Washburn.
    • Averted with the Warden. Her surname is Walker, but the film reveals her first name is Louise.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The boys of Group D usually use their nicknames to refer to each other, except for Stanley and Zero after Stanley learns Zero's actual name. In particular, Armpit never likes to be referred to by his real name Theodore. In the end, Armpit asks Stanley to call his mother and apologize on his behalf, saying, "Tell her Theodore said he was sorry." This is changed from the book, as it's Squid, not Armpit, who asks Stanley this favor ("Tell her Alan said he was sorry"), but it's still played straight, as the boys refer to each other by their nicknames rather than their actual names, except for Stanley before he acquires his nickname of Caveman.
  • Panopticon of Surveillance: Camp Green Lake is rumored to be filled with cameras and microphones, though it's never confirmed if it's true or not. Still, the campers feel like they're being watched.
  • 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 out the entire contents of the canteen, refusing to drink from it thanks to his suspicion.
  • Parting-Words Regret: In the film, all of the boys get worried when Stanley drives Mr. Sir's truck into the desert and then runs on foot to find Zero. They all had a big fight with both Stanley and Hector and know that running away from camp is a death sentence. When the duo returns, they get a Group Hug from the group in the movie and an apology in the book.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • In his first scene, Mr. Sir gives two cans of soda to the guard (one is for him, the other is for the bus driver) for the nine-hour bus ride the guard and driver have to do.
    • Mr. Sir gives Zigzag an extra carton of orange juice for his birthday. Everyone is surprised that Mr. Sir did it.
    • In her first appearance, in both the book and the film, the Warden tells Pendanski to top off everyone's canteen, despite the fact that he had filled them moments before. In the same scene she also demands that for (she thinks) finding the gold tube, X-Ray should not only get a day off but also double shower tokens and a snack.
    • When Pendanski finds Mr. Sir is depriving Stanley of water after the sunflower seeds incident, Pendanski gives Stanley extra water. This happens for about two weeks.
    • Derrick Dunne, the bully indirectly responsible for Stanley getting arrested, tells Ms. Morengo that Stanley is innocent of the crime and gives him an alibi.
  • Pictorial Letter Substitution:
    • The cover of the 20th anniversary edition has a view of the sky from the bottom of a hole, with the hole's opening making up the "O" in the title.
    • On the film poster, a shovel is thrust into the title's "O", with its blade forming the O's center.
  • Pig Latin: "X-Ray" is so nicknamed because it's pig Latin for his real name, "Rex".
  • Planet of Steves: All the sons in the Yelnats family are called Stanley because it's Yelnats backwards. During the courtroom scene when the judge tells Stanley Yelnats to stand up, Stanley does, and so do his father and grandfather, because they're both called Stanley (Stanley's grandfather is Stanley II and his father is Stanley III). The judge then clarifies for Stanley IV to stand.
  • Police Are Useless: The sheriff of Green Lake refuses to help Kate when the mob is destroying the schoolhouse, because Sam has broken the law by kissing her ("It's against the law for a Negro to kiss a white woman"). This lack of help allows Trout and his men to kill Sam.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Subverted with Myra in that she doesn't seem to be popular with the men. Her only suitors are Igor and Elya.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The film adds Stanley's grandfather, who was the only Yelnats generation not substantially mentioned in the book, to handle exposition on the family's backstory.
    • Kissin' Kate Barlow is made more sympathetic by only initially 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, and it really wouldn't have been worth it for a plot point that's ultimately fairly minor.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Warden rewards one of her charges for finding something with a break and a snack... but not out of the goodness of her heart: she just wants the kids to find Kate's treasure faster.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Digging massive holes helps Stanley get in shape.
  • 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. He only really talks to Stanley, and when he's affected enough by the others to do so.
  • 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 Baron: Katherine "Kissin' Kate" Barlow.
  • 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.
  • Red Is Heroic: In the film, Stanley wears a red cap.
  • Red Right Hand: Madam Zeroni has no left foot.
  • 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!
  • Remembered Too Late: Elya forgets to carry Madam Zeroni up the mountain after leaving Myra's house, and it isn't until he's on the boat to America that he finally remembers he had to do it. Oops.
  • Repeat What You Just Said: Stanley's grandfather asks Zero 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.
    • The film has this with Stanley's father finding his foot odor cure. "[frustrated] I don't smell anything." "...what?" " [slow realization] ...I don't smell anything."
  • Reverse Psychology: The boys do this when they're mad at Stanley for having Zero dig part of his hole every day. They insist that they want to dig his hole too, and that they'll do things like give him their cookie if he lets them do it, which Stanley refuses.
  • Rewatch Bonus: When you know that Zero accidentally got Stanley arrested by stealing Clyde's shoes, innocently thinking they were just random sneakers, it makes his digging Stanley's hole the day Stanley tries to take the heat for Magnet more clear.
  • Riches to Rags:
    • The Walker family in the backstory after the murder of Sam.
    • The Yelnats family after Stanley Yelnats I was robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow. They go back to riches after Stanley and Zero dig up the stash at Camp Green Lake.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Stanley never figures out why Kate Barlow spared his great-grandfather, and Kate never elaborates during her part of the story. He's the only robbery victim that Kate spared.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: The Mary Lou boat found by Stanley and Zero.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Stanley doesn't learn the Warden is female until she makes her first appearance.
  • Say My Name:
    • Right before Sam is shot in his boat in the film, Kate screams his name. She then says it in a voice full of tears after the gunshot, and breaks into sobs. In the book, she's on the boat with him when he's killed.
    • A worried Stanley yells Zero's name into the desert three times after Zero runs away from camp, as Twitch is arriving on the bus.
  • The Scapegoat: Elya Yelnats to his entire family whenever things go south, referred to by Stanley as his "no good dirty rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather." Inverted, in that the family never seriously blames him for their bad luck, but it actually is his fault.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Elya, after he realizes Madam Zeroni was right about Myra's stupidity. He tells her she can keep his pig as a wedding present and walks away in disgust. He doesn't just leave her behind forever, he leaves Latvia behind forever, going to America like Madam Zeroni's son. Though, unfortunately, he was a bit too hasty about this, and forgot before leaving to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain like he'd promised.
    • Barf Bag pulled one of these via a Deliberate Injury Gambit, where he intentionally got bitten by a rattlesnake to get out of Camp Green Lake, which led to Stanley taking his place.
    • Zero, after being insulted by Pendanski one too many times, whacks Pendanski across the face with a shovel and runs away from camp.
    • Stanley too, when he steals the water truck and attempts to use it to go after Zero. When he accidentally crashes it into a hole, he continues going on foot.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Stanley Yelnats. It was originally a filler name used by Louis Sachar when he was writing the book, and he planned to later replace it with a more normal name. He never did, and the name even becomes a plot point.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Trout Walker and his descendants spent decades trying to find Kate Barlow's treasure in the dried ruins of the lake (the Warden 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 slave 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. She mostly deserves it, but still... 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.
  • Shout-Out: The discussion of Camp Green Lake not needing guard towers or fencing to keep people from running away because the wilderness will kill them if they try to escape is a nod to The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • Shovel Strike: Before Zero runs away from camp, he takes the shovel Pendanski gives him and whacks him across the face with it. In the book, there is another one, as when the yellow-spotted lizard that kills Kate appears, Linda tries (and fails) to hit it with a shovel.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Kate turns down Trout Walker, the richest man in town, because she finds him repulsive on the outside and inside. Sam wins her over just by being kind, humble, and polite; he even recites poetry with her as he fixes up the schoolhouse. Unsurprisingly, when Trout murders Sam, Kate goes from a kind schoolteacher to a vengeful outlaw.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Subverted with Sam. It may be easy to believe that his onion remedies run on the placebo effect, especially when we find out he could have just as easily earned a living being a Mr. Fixit carpenter. The onions end up being a Chekhov's Gun; he says the lizards don't like the onion juice in people's blood, and the lizards in the hole with the treasure end up not biting Stanley or Hector after they were eating onions from Sam's field for a few days. Even the Warden is astounded that the boys are alive come sunrise.
  • 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.
    • Also, Stanley giving the tube of lipstick to X-Ray and then suggesting him to keep it until the next morning. This leads the Warden to think Kate Barlow's loot is in the wrong place and has the boys dig there, which also tells Stanley that whatever the Warden wants is related to the tube.
  • Spoiled Brat: Myra Menke and Trout Walker.
  • Stab the Scorpion: Mr. Sir shoots at Stanley at one point. He points to a dead lizard just feet away and explains the lizard was about to bite Stanley.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: In Kate's story, this happens in a tragic way, and twofold. She and Sam develop an Unresolved Sexual Tension because he is unfailingly polite to her, and shares her interest in poetry. Kate is also a dedicated teacher in a town where most of the adults can't read or write. Sam eventually reciprocates her feelings and offers to mend her broken heart by kissing her. The only problem? He's a black man and she's a white woman, and they're living in the 19th century post-slavery era. The minute the townspeople find out, they raise a mob to burn down the schoolhouse to punish Kate for "poisoning" the children's minds and the sheriff plans to hang Sam because it's against the law for a black man to kiss a white woman. It's no wonder that Kate turns her back on the teaching profession and hardens her shattered heart.
  • Stealth Pun: Stanley's assigned group at Green Lake (Tent "D") is sometimes referred to as "D Tent"—which sounds like an abbreviation of "detention".
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Sorry Sam, but as lampshaded by the narrator, you won't stand a chance at outrunning a steam-powered motorboat in just a rowboat, even if you do have strong and powerful arms. And thus, Trout is able to catch up to and shoot Sam.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Thanks to a Paranoia Gambit pulled by Mr. Sir, Stanley thinks Mr. Sir has done this to his water, the first time Mr. Sir refills his canteen after not doing so for a week. Stanley eventually can take it no longer and pours all the water out.
  • Terrible Trio: The Warden, Mr. Sir, and Pendanski.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: 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. Justified, however, in that of the three species the lizards were based on, two of them are extremely dangerous and one is extremely endangered — rendering all three impossible to use in filming. "Beardies", however, are neither, and actually make a decent approximation with a bit of a paint job.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • This Cannot Be!: The Warden, after discovering that the briefcase has Stanley's name on it:
    The Warden stared at it in disbelief. “That’s im… imposs… It’s imposs…” She couldn’t even say it.
  • Tragic Keepsake: In the film Kate is hanging out by Sam's boat when Trout Walker catches up to her. She said she was wishing she was dead for years, which has unsettling implications.
  • Tragic Mistake: Elya forgetting to back for Madame Zeroni led to his family being cursed for over a century.
  • Translated Cover Version: In-Universe: The "pig song" was originally in Latvian. When translated into 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.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "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.
  • 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 Names: Zero. He not only got it for a negative reason (people think there's zero going on in his head), but everyone calls him that, including Mr. Pendanski, who otherwise refuses to call the campers by their nicknames. He's also the only one who was called Zero even before he went to Camp Green Lake, because it's based on his last name Zeroni.
  • Unperson: To keep the staff of Camp Green Lake from being held responsible for Zero's potential death in the desert, the Warden orders Mr. Pendanski to delete his files from the computer. The task is easier because Zero was a ward of the state with no family, but it backfires miserably - with those records gone, they can't prove he's an inmate, and have to let him go instead of trading him for the suitcase.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Trout Walker, so much. He was the son of the richest man in the county and owns the lake and all the land on its east side, and thinks he's entitled to anything (and anyone) he wants. He's also a complete idiot. The book even describes him as loud and stupid and proud of his idiocy.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Trout Walker, after searching many years for the treasure. He makes his children and grandchildren dig every day in the desert, long after his death. In the film, he's in this breakdown when he and his new wife catch up to Kate and Trout is shaking in desperate anger. Kate is dead on the inside but mildly satisfied.
    • In the end, the Warden is "nearly hysterical" as she tries to get Stanley to open the suitcase.
  • Villainous Rescue: Stanley's main bully from school, Derrick Dunne, did this for him at the end. Stanley's lawyer Miss Morengo 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 was with Stanley (specifically, picking on him by taking his notebook and throwing it in a toilet) when the shoes disappeared.
  • Villains Out Shopping: When not commanding the campers, the Warden either makes her own nail polish or paints her nails with said polish. She makes it because the secret ingredient is rattlesnake venom, which is still toxic when wet.
  • The Voiceless: Barf Bag is mentioned in the book, and in the film, he only appears in the opening scene with no lines, except for a scream when the snake bites him.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: As Stanley and Zero are climbing up the mountain, Zero starts coughing and when he has to stop to vomit, it can be seen coming out of his mouth before cutting to Stanley.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: In the film, after Zero knocks Pendanski out with a shovel, Pendanski eventually comes to and says "I'll have the chicken tenders, Warden."
  • Wealthy Ever After: Downplayed in the book (but played fully straight in the film); Stanley and Zero each receive a little less than a million dollars due to the value of the papers from the treasure chest. However, that's still a pretty big windfall for two teenagers, especially two who had lived in poverty before that (Zero having been destitute and homeless, while Stanley's family was just barely keeping a roof over their heads). Plus, the Yelnats have a new source of income with their successful Sploosh deodorant.
  • Western Rattlers: Wild rattlesnakes are one of the natural dangers of Camp Green Lake. Some kids deliberately get bitten by rattlesnakes because being hospitalized in town is less awful than staying.
  • Wham Line: Occurs when Zero tells Stanley his real name is Hector Zeroni, unwittingly revealing that he's the descendant of Madam Zeroni, who cursed Stanley's family with bad luck when his great-great-grandfather failed to take her to the oasis at her request.
  • 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 he told her that it was 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 because they were repelled by the boys' onion diet.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Kate Barlow keeps giving spiced peaches in exchange for Sam fixing up the schoolhouse. She starts crying when it's done because there are no more problems to fix after he repairs the roof, door, and windows. Sam tells her, "I can fix that" and kisses her. A few days later, the students' parents burn down the schoolhouse and Trout shoots Sam.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds:
    • Kissin' Kate Barlow. Originally just a schoolteacher in 19th-century Texas, she eventually falls for 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 Kissin' Kate robbed, not even being allowed to stop for Christmas. Evidently, this lasted until her adulthood.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: When the Yelnatses first open the suitcase, the first thing they see is a bunch of shiny jewels, but it turns out they're poor quality/degraded and not worth all that much. Subverted when it turns out that the suitcase also contains a bunch of stock certificates, which, while less eye-catching, are worth a heck of a lot more; even after the cost of sorting it all out, Stanley and Zero each get close to a million dollars ("less than a million... but not a lot less"). Subverted completely in the film, where it's implied that everything is incredibly valuable because he kept it in a trunk, not a suitcase.
  • 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.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: A very harsh example. Sam does up the schoolhouse for Kate, but after their kiss is witnessed, the schoolhouse is set ablaze and Sam is killed.
  • You Will Be Spared: Stanley Yelnats I was, at least as far as the book ever states, the only man that Kate robbed and didn't kill. Her reasons were unclear.