In Holes, author Louis Sacher creates a realistic portrait of a residential camp for troubled boys—right down to the peer politics, broken recreation room, and smell. Anyone who has visited such a facility would recognize it immediately, and Sacher’s portrayal of how these boys become objects to the authorities, rather than people, is bitter and deeply informed.
At the same time, the book’s realism rests within a frame that could have been lifted from a classic fable or even a fairy tale. Holes contains gypsy curses, extreme random chance, hero worship, terrifying beasts, good witches and bad ones, true love, buried treasure, clichés from every buddy movie and prison movie ever made, and riddles for the heroes to solve.
When Sacher shifts between the two modes, the transition is sometimes a bit bumpy. Coincidence can stretch too far, and at some key points it is not clear if realism or wish fulfillment is going to carry the day. But those points are rare, and as Sacher himself points out in the final pages, this story—like every story—is full of holes that readers must fill in themselves.