A book review for parents
This adventure book by Louis Sachar is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Wrongly accused of stealing sneakers, Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake correctional facility. The boys there dig holes daily in the hot sun, supposedly to "build character" — but Stanley soon discovers the warden is actually hunting for a treasure tied to Stanley's ancestors. As he masters his digging skills and rescues a fellow inmate, Stanley's self-confidence grows. He also discovers the treasure may be closer than anyone realizes. Flashback tales about Stanley's family history are woven through his Camp Green Lake experiences.
Characters in Stanley's flashbacks attribute physical healing to God and suggest that a tragic event was "God's punishment."
The warden and counselors at Camp Green Lake call the boys stupid, withhold water from them as they work in the hot sun, and sometimes even hurt them enough to draw blood. In one scene, these adults are prepared to shoot Stanley and his friend, Zero, in order to acquire the treasure. X-Ray, one of the young inmates, is leader of the boys in Stanley's unit; he makes decisions including what order the boys stand in to get water each day. Stanley's parents, though they show up mainly in Stanley's memory, are kind and supportive. He lies to them in his letters so they won't worry about him.
Other Belief Systems
Stanley and his dad halfway believe in a family curse supposedly placed on Stanley's great, great grandfather.
Counselors say, "What the h---?" and take God’s name in vain once. A fair amount of violence occurs as the warden hurts the counselors and inmates, the counselors point guns at the kids, and the kids fight each other. None of the violence is terribly descriptive.
In a flashback to the time of Stanley's great grandfather, a white schoolteacher kisses a black peddler she loves. The town lynches him.
Newbery Medal, 1999; National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 1998; Christopher Award for Juvenile Fiction; ALA Notable Book; Publishers Weekly Notable Children's Book of the Year, among others.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How did Stanley deal with authority figures that were unfair?
How should you deal with authority figures that are unfair?
- Who did Stanley befriend?
What did he learn from this person?
- What does God ask you to do to those who others look down on?
- How should you deal with authority when those in power are corrupt?
- What can you learn by befriending and helping those whom others consider stupid?
Kids may be interested in hearing stories of their own family history after reading about Stanley's.
Note: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.