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© Bella Stander

book reviews

by Louis Sachar
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Publishers Weekly
August 1998

"Heartwarming" may be an overused term these days, but it aptly describes this wry and loopy novel by the author of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom and the Wayside School series. Stanley Yelnats (yes, his name is a palindrome) gets sent to Camp Green Lake, "a camp for bad boys. 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. That was what some people thought." Never mind that Stanley didn't commit the crime he was convicted of (stealing a pair of used sneakers for one of his father's screwy inventions), he digs five-foot-deep holes with all the other "bad" boys under the baleful direction of the Warden, surely the most terrifying female since Big Nurse. Just when it seems as though this is going to be a YA version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets "Cool Hand Luke," the story takes flight--along with Stanley, who flees camp after his buddy Zero--in a wholly unexpected direction to become a dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism. One would have to be stony-hearted not to feel a glow when Sachar ties together seemingly disparate story threads to dispel ghosts from the past and give everyone their just deserts.

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