By Louis Sachar
Louis Sachar invites us into the lives of three main characters and their exciting intricate stories. Stanely Yelnats, a boy who is the victim of a family curse, has been sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile detention camp called ‘camp green lake’ for a crime he did not commit. The story jumps back and forth between characters but the foundation of the story dates back to the time of Kate Barlow. Kate, a primary school teacher fell in love with a man, who in those days was a man she shouldn’t have fallen in love with. Sam was a kind gentleman who sold onions which were supposed to have medicinal benefits. Kate and Sam’s love is not supported by the locals and Sam’s onion selling days come to a brutal end when he is murdered by the local racist clan. As a result of this, Kate’s gentle demeanour turns into the most feared bandit called ‘kissin Kate Barlow’. She robbed and killed men and in the end died laughing without telling anyone where she had buried her stash. After Kate died the area of Green Lake dried up. Centuries later this then became the perfect location for the detention camp. This being where Stanely Yelnats life intertwines with Kissin Kate Barlow. Stanley’s unfortunate luck results in Stanely being sent to Camp Green Lake. While at camp Stanely and the other boys are forced to dig holes in the blistering sun. The warden says that digging holes will turn bad boys into good boys. However, Stanley soon realises that there is more to why they are being forced to dig holes.
The family curse dates back to Stanley’s great-great-great grandfather, who the family refer to as a dirty rotten pig stealer. Stanley’s great-great-great grandfather fell in love with the daughter of a local pig farmer. When he asked for the daughter’s hand in marriage, the farmer informs Stanley’s great-great grandfather that another man is interested in her hand. He suggests that the man who presents the fattest pig can take his daughter’s hand in marriage. Elya Yelnats, Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, sought help from a gypsy named Madame Zeroni. In exchange for a pig, she made him promise that after the pig had grown full size he would carry her up a mountain and sing her a song that she had taught him. When he presented the pig to the farmer he saw that the girl he thought he loved was more interested in the pigs than getting married. He then decided that there was no point in sticking around and he took an opportunity to flee to America, forgetting his promise to Madame Zeroni. As a result, he believes he has been cursed. This belief is passed down generations.
Stanley finds life at Camp Green Lake very difficult. The heat is stifling and he finds it very hard digging the holes. The boys are told that if they find anything interesting while digging that they must report it to the warden. The other boys tell Stanley that the warden may give the boy who finds something of interest the day off from digging holes. They remind Stanley that they have been there longer and that if he finds anything he must give it to them. This doesn’t really sound appealing to Stanley but he wants to stay on the good side of the other boys. Stanley finds a lipstick tube with the initials K.B on it. He soon comes to the realisation that this belongs to ‘Kissin Kate Barlow’. As promised he gives it to one of the other boys nicknamed X-ray who in turn gets a day off digging. Stanley and one of the boys nicknamed Zero come to an agreement. Zero is the fastest digger but he is unable to read. Stanley agrees to teach him how to read in return Zero will help Stanley dig his holes. Although neither are aware of it, Zero whose real name is Hector Zeroni has a connection. Zero is the great-great-great grandson of Madame Zeroni. Zero eventually runs away from the camp. Stanley feels the need to follow him as he is worried that Zero will perish in the desolate land. He finds Zero under a wooden boat eating what he refers to as splooge. The two help each other to reach the top of the big mountain, which turns out to be where Sam used to grow his renowned onions. As Zero was so weak, Stanley helped to carry him up the mountain. They devise a plan to return to camp and search for more treasure in the hole where Stanley found the lipstick tube. The boys discover a suitcase with the name Stanley Yelnats on it. After a desperate attempt from the warden to get the suitcase from the boys, Stanley’s lawyer who had been contacted when Stanley’s parents knew something was wrong showed up and ordered the warden to return the case and took Stanley and Zero from the camp. It turned out that the case contained valuable items and that it was the same case that Kissin Kate Barlow robbed from Stanley’s great-great-grandfather.
In the end, the family curse is lifted. Hector is reunited with his mother and Stanley’s father finally succeeded in completing a successful invention. The book was a wonderful journey of twist and connections.