Friday, February 11, 2011


I had forgotten just how wonderful some young adult literature is until I recently did the Elementary-Age Literature homework for a friend in an Elementary Education degree program.
The assignment was an analysis of Holes, a novel by Louis Sachar designed for the fifth grade reader.
I love how quickly young adult literature gets to the point. We get introduced to the five most important things about our hero in the first 10 double-spaced pages. The depth of evil within our story's villain is revealed on page one - seamlessly, simultaneously tied to the story's setting: "The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edge of the “lake.” A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that. The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the warden. The warden owns the shade." (Page 1)

Sentences in young adult literature do not meander, tease, or wind endlessly around. They are short. They are straightforward. Each sentence and therefore the tale, is easy to understand. That is not to say that Holes is not complex, or that it's free from more adult plot devices. In the course of only a few short pages, we readers become privy to the back-stories of multiple characters, a multi-generational and cross continent family history, flashbacks, and more than one instance of bait and switch that even caught me off guard. The novel also touches on adult themes of race relations, interracial relationships and gender roles without contrivance.

The basic storyline follows an ordinary kid wrongly sentenced to a work-camp, where he is befriended by tough-guy types who would never have associated with him otherwise. [Read: Fate could somehow toss respect and adventure to boring, ordinary ME!]
During the course of his punishment, kid grows in confidence and physical strength, is called upon to share his under-appreciated intelligence with a new friend, and stumbles across a greater mystery that binds together his family background with outlaw history of the old west and his present predicament.
All's well that ends well for our protagonist Stanley Yelnat, and while both boys and girls of any age could enjoy the novel, I had to chuckle at a scene in which 5 or 6 adolescent males muse that a found object must be some kind of shotgun shell, when in fact it turns out to be the cap from a tube of lipstick.

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