Author: Louis Sachar
Publication Date: 8/20/98
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Blurb(GR): A darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment. Stanley Yelnat's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile
detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake - it has been dry for over a hundred years - and it's hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but she is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow. The story of Kissin' Kate, and of a curse put on Stanley's great-great-grandfather by a one-legged gypsy, weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters - and their forebears - for generations. With this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has written his best book to date.
I am very sad that I never read this as a young person, because I think that I would have loved it even more than I do now. I think that it probably would have blown my mind. I have to applaud Louis Sachar for being so courageous in a children’s novel.
Effortlessly weaving together the past, present, and ancient history of these characters, Mr. Sachar examines the impact of our history and the nature of hope and human compassion, all while maintaining a light, humorous quality. This is a book for children, but one that never speaks down to children. It is both mature and youthful.
Stanley is tried and convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit, sent to a reform camp for boys, and forced to work day after day in the hot sun digging holes – without any hope of aid. He’s treated callously and unfairly, but he must learn to keep going, get along with the boys around him, and survive.
This is not a book that promises (like so many other children’s books do) success and rewards for good behavior, for choosing all the right paths. That’s not what real living, real maturity is all about. It’s about learning to deal with adversity and tragedy and failure when they come – because they will. It’s about making the right choices even when there are no rewards, no promised successes, simply because they’re right. And more than that – it’s about choosing kindness and compassion, even when everything around you is hard and unfair.
The only part of this novel that I don’t quite like is the ending, which seems to undermine the more realistic quality of the rest of the novel. I wish that Stanley and Hector could survive happily without a fairy tale ending, because
after all of that, they know that they don’t need one to be happy. But I think that as a child, I would have enjoyed seeing them win the day.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Brett Dennen – Darlin’ Do Not Fear
Your confidence is faultless your faith etched in stone
and neither could comfort you from the wild unknown
So bury your burning hatred like a hatchet in the snow
Darlin' do not fear what you don't really know.