Genre: middle grade fiction
Length: 233 pages
Setting: mostly Green Lake, TX, recent past
Interest: I was looking for an audiobook for a trip to a gymnastics meet. This one was a perfect length and a Newbery winner to boot.
Summary: Stanley is sent to Green Lake, a reform “camp”, as an alternative to jail, after being convicted of stealing some expensive sneakers. At Green Lake, every boy is required to dig a hole 5′ deep and 5′ in diameter every day. The digging bonds the boys in Stanley’s tent together against the guards and especially the Warden. The Warden gets excited when X-ray “finds” an artifact (which Stanley had discovered the day before), but they don’t find anything else (mainly because they’re digging in the wrong place). Stanley also takes on the task of teaching Zero, one of his tent-mates, to read. Stanley’s life on Green Lake is interspersed with stories about Stanley’s great-grandfather and life on Green Lake when there was a lake. At one point, Zero runs away and the Warden decides to erase all his records instead of look for him. Eventually, Stanley goes off to find Zero. They survive for several days on God’s Thumb, eating onions, and come back to Green Lake Camp to find the treasure the Warden was looking for.
Final thoughts: A great book for the middle school crowd. Stanley had a hard time fitting in because he was fat and poor. He did manage to find a place for himself among the boys of his tent, but he often had to decide what was the right thing to do in morally ambiguous situations, especially in regards to Zero. He eventually did the right thing, helping Zero learn how to read and then going after him in the desert. I enjoyed the slow realization that the history of Stanley’s family and Green Lake were affecting him as he was living in Green Lake.
Title comes from: The holes the boys had to dig every day
Awards won: National Book Award in 1998, and a Newbery Award in 1999
Reading challenges fulfilled: since it’s an audiobook, it only counts toward my total book count, so #14 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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