Stanley Yelnats comes from a long line of males with the same name, because his family had always liked the fact that “Stanley Yelnats” was the same frontward and backward. This story, too, goes frontward and backward in time.
After being caught with a stolen pair of tennis shoes that had fallen from a bridge on Stanley’s head, Stanley is sent to a juvenile correctional facility in Texas called Camp Green Lake. There is neither water nor anything green however in this camp, which has been a desert for over a hundred years. The only inhabitants besides the campers, counselors, and warden are snakes, spiders, scorpions and poisonous yellow-spotted lizards.
Stanley, from a relatively poor family, had thought he would actually be going to a “camp” on a “lake,” which would be an improvement over his situation at home, where his father had nothing but bad luck with his invention attempts and where Stanley was bullied for being overweight.
But as luck would have it, or wouldn’t – as was the case with the long line of Yelnats – this was not a nice camp but an abusive outpost far from the eyes of any overseers.
We gradually learn that the bad luck of the Yelnats family stems from a Gypsy curse put on Stanley’s great-great-grandfather and all of his descendants. The reason for the curse, and the way it affects what happens at the camp, gradually unfolds like an onion skin, which is entirely appropriate given that onions play a critical role in the story.
Stanley and his “camp-mates” are forced to dig holes five feet by five feet every day in the pitiless desert sun, and soon, a life-threatening event happens. Whether Stanley can survive all depends on whether he can break the curse, but even he doesn’t know what that means!
Evaluation: You can hardly say too many good things about Louis Sachar, or, apparently, give this book too many awards. It is clever, heart-warming, full of good messages, and definitely worth all the accolades. It will delight middle graders on up. Despite its serious themes, it is full of fun, and features a sort of loser-ish kid who turns into a hero, just by being himself.
Published by Scholastic, Inc., 1998
1999 Newbery Medal
1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
Christopher Award for Juvenile Fiction
ALA Notable Book
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults
New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly Notable Children’s Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly Bestseller
Horn Book Fanfare Title
Riverbank Review 1999 Children’s Book of Distinction
New York Public Library Children’s Book of 1998-100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Texas Lone Star Award Nominee
NECBA Fall List Title