Holes Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Enjoy a more complete and personal experience with the novel Holes with your class, or at home, with the following Discussion Guide. It features summaries of the plot, themes, conflict, setting, and characters, as well as a number of questions designed to encourage conversation.
"There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There was once a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas." So the story begins with the first of many examples of mystery, irony, and humor in the life of our hero, Stanley Yelnats. Stanley is a boy plagued by a family curse brought on by his "no-good- dirty-rotten- pig-stealing- great-great-grandfather." His bad luck has landed him at Camp Green Lake, which we learn is not a camp at all, but a boys' juvenile detention center. Although he was wrongly convicted of his crime, he is sentenced to a year and a half at Green Lake, where the motto is: "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy." Stanley is dropped into a hot, dry wasteland where he is made to dig 5-foot holes, as deep and as wide as his shovel.
It is not long before Stanley realizes that the boys are not digging to build character, but to uncover a lost treasure from the famous outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow — the very same outlaw who robbed his great-grandfather many years before. But this is not the only connection between Camp Green Lake and the Yelnats family. As the book progresses, a second story unfolds about Stanley's great-great-grandfather and the "curse" laid upon him by a Madame Zeroni. A third story also unfolds: that of Kissin' Kate Barlow and her beloved Sam, the onion man. Slowly, these three stories begin to fit together like a puzzle, and we learn that fate has been at work in the lives of all of these characters.
Throughout Holes, fate plays an important role in the lives of all of the characters. The Yelnats family has been hit by bad luck for generations, believing that there was a "curse" laid upon Stanley's great-great-grandfather by a gypsy more than a hundred years ago. But as the story unfolds, we learn that this "curse" has led to a series of events that touch the lives of many characters. As we follow Stanley's life at Camp Green Lake, a second story is told of Kate Barlow and Sam, the onion man, which takes place more than a hundred years earlier in the town of Green Lake. Kate, an outlaw, robbed Stanley's great-grandfather, and we soon learn that her story plays an important role in Stanley's life as well.
Discuss the ways that fate and destiny affect Stanley and his family. Stanley's great-great-grandfather was "cursed" because he did not carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain as he had promised. How was this promise fulfilled over a hundred years later? How did the story of Stanley's great-grandfather's survival help Zero and Stanley survive their escape from Camp Green Lake?
Another significant theme in Holes is friendship. At home, Stanley did not have many friends. But at Camp Green Lake, he and the other boys in his group develop a strong bond. Stanley forms a special friendship with Zero, whom he teaches to read. Discuss the bond that develops among the boys. How did Zero and Stanley prove their friendship to each other?
Although destiny ties the characters and their stories together, Holes is also a story of strong will and determination. When Zero escapes from the camp, Stanley is plagued with guilt and worry about his friend. Discuss the difficult actions Stanley takes to help his friend.
The Yelnats believed there was a curse on their family for generations. Do you believe there was a family curse? What do you think the Yelnats family believed by the end of the book? Do you think people have ultimate control over their own lives? Or is something else at work?
Throughout the book, there is a conflict between loving, giving characters and those with selfish motives. Discuss at least three examples of this conflict. In the end, which characters prevail?
Camp Green Lake seems like a place from another world — a dry, flat wasteland covered with hundreds and hundreds of holes. Green Lake had once been the largest lake in Texas, surrounded by peach trees. Why did the area change so drastically? Predict how Camp Green Lake will look ten years after Stanley leaves. What clues in the story lead you to this conclusion?
Stanley goes through several changes during his stay at Camp Green Lake. Describe Stanley at the time he arrives at Camp Green Lake. What is he like a few months into his sentence? How does he change by the time he leaves? Describe Stanley's letters home to his mother. What do we learn about Stanley from these letters?
At Camp Green Lake, Stanley meets an array of characters, from the stern Mr. Sir to the frightening Warden. Discuss how adults are portrayed in the book. Describe the adults at Camp Green Lake. Are they all the same? How are they different from most of the adults outside Camp Green Lake?
Stanley slowly develops a friendship with a fellow inmate named Zero, a small, quiet boy who rarely speaks. Is Zero stupid, as most people think? What clues are given to prove that Zero is really very smart? What role did Zero's family play in Stanley's family generations earlier?
Stanley is placed in group D. Besides Zero, which of the characters in the group was most memorable to you? Why? What is the relationship between the boys and the guards? Stanley and Zero were not the only characters to develop throughout the story. How do the rest of the boys at Camp Green Lake change by the end of the book?
How does the author establish each character's personality through dialogue?
- Why is the book called Holes? Besides the boys, who else dug holes at Green Lake? How does digging holes help Zero and Stanley survive? Was there a hole in Stanley's life when he went to Camp Green Lake? Was it still there when he left? Why or why not? What "holes" are there in the story for the reader? How are they "filled in"?
- Besides the title, the characters' names are also symbolic. Discuss the importance of names in the book. What is the significance of Stanley's name being a palindrome? Talk about the other names in the book, particularly the nicknames given to the boys at Camp Green Lake.
- There are many parallels between the different stories told in Holes. Explain the importance of these recurring themes: peaches, onions, lizards, Mary Lou.
- Compare the song that appears throughout the book with the version that ends the book. How does the tone and meaning change? How does that reflect the changes that occurred in the book?
- Find examples of irony and dark humor in the book.
- At the heart of this story is a fable. Discuss the moral of this fable. Who are the important characters? What does each character represent?