The main character of the book is called Stanley Yelnats and has always had bad luck because of a curse that was brought upon his family by his great-great-grandfather. Stanley, who is in fact innocent, has been sent to Camp Green Lake for stealing the shoes of a famous basketball player. Although his age is not mentioned, he must be of middle school age. The book tells the reader that Stanley gets bullied at school and that “he [doesn´t] have any friends” (Sachar 7). The only information about his physical appearance is that Stanley is white, tall and overweight and the kids at school often tease him about his size (Sachar 7), which could result in him not being very self-confident. Although he and his family seem to be cursed, they […] “always remained hopeful” (Sachar 9). Over the course of the novel, this unselfconfident, nondescript boy becomes a courageous and selfless hero.
At Camp Green Lake he becomes a member of a group, consisting of five other boys, each with a nickname. Stanley´s nickname is ‘Caveman’, which X- Ray, the leader of the group has chosen for him. The nickname might refer back to Stanley´s physical appearance being tall and overweight. The way X- Ray uses the name ‘Caveman’ could also indicate some basic respect as he says, “You don´t want to mess with the Caveman” or “the Caveman´s one tough dude” (Sachar 44). His nickname represents membership in the group and offers a departure from the general social ostracism that Stanley has faced up until now. While Stanley is pleased by this general social acceptance, he doesn´t lose sight of the fact that the other boys have the potential for violence.
In addition to the physical changes that occur due to his hard labor digging holes, Stanley also starts to develop a stronger self- esteem and self reliance. His friendship with Zero prompts him to stand up in the face of injustice and to risk his own life to help those in need.
By the end of the novel, Stanley Yelnats has transformed into a true hero.
‘Zero’ is the nickname all the other boys have given to him. His real name is Hector Zeroni, which connects him with the old gypsy, who cursed Stanley´s great – great- grandfather and was called Madame Zeroni. She must have been Hector´s great – great – grandmother. Zero got this rather pejorative nickname because he is always quiet: he rarely talks, never answers any questions, and never shows emotions. The reason for this could be that he is wary of people.
Although he is physically strong and can dig holes faster than anyone, other camp inhabitants pick on him because they assume that he is stupid. Even the counsellors make fun of Zero, “You know why his name´s Zero? […]. Because there´s nothing in his head.” (Sachar 19).
Zero is a small black boy who has dealt with many hardships in his young life. When Zero becomes friends with Stanley, he tells him his story about being homeless on the streets and how his mother disappeared one day and now he becomes a ward of the state. This tragic story shows for the first time that Zero is a survivor who has managed to live on his own despite incredible odds.
As Zero has grown up alone on the streets, he has never learned to read and write. That is how the friendship between the two boys begins: Stanley teaches Zero and it turns out that Zero is very smart and in fact, very talkative; he learns fast and turns out to be a genius in making mental calculations. But when a counsellor makes fun of Zero´s stupidity one day, he does not hesitate to smash his shovel into the counsellor’s face and run away from camp, straight into the hot desert. Always the survivor, Zero again manages to stay alive in the desert for several days until Stanley rescues him.
Zero shows several times that he is a good friend to Stanley. Not only does he help Stanley with his fight with another boy and rescues him, Zero also shares the only food they have when Stanley finds Zero in the hot desert. Finally, Zero tells Stanley the truth: that it was he who had stolen the shoes of the famous basketball player – the crime for Stanley was punished.
Rex, whose nickname is X – Ray is the leader of the group, to which Stanley and Zero belong. Although he is one of the smaller boys, he makes the rules and all the others follow them.
It is he, for example, who decides that Stanley is to be called “Caveman”. Rex wears glasses, which means he can´t see very well and he is an African – American boy. He makes sure that he, as the leader, is first in line, when the water truck comes to fill up the canteens. He places not only himself in front of line, but also decides who comes next in line and determines that Stanley should stand in line before Zero.
It is also X – Ray who orders Stanley to hand him everything he finds when he digs holes because he wants to get a day off. He says to Stanley “You´re new here, right? […] I´ve been here for almost a year. I´ve never found anything.” (Sachar 52). That is how X – Ray clarifies that he is the leader and that he has more rights to get the day off than any other boy. After Stanley fulfills the order, X – Ray is very nice and friendly towards Stanley. But after Stanley´s self – confidence rises and he becomes friends with Zero and he stands up for himself, X – Ray turns out to be very sneaky: he feels the hierarchy is being threatened. When Stanley and Zero are released from camp, all of the boys come over to say goodbye to them, except for X-Ray. He is jealous and feels his authority dwindling.
Armpit´s real name is Theodore. He is also African American and always second in line after X – Ray, which could mean that he is the closest to X- Ray. Stanley gets into trouble with him once by calling him Theodore instead of Armpit.
Squid´s real name is Alan, he is white and always third in line to receive water. He makes fun of Stanley writing letters to his parents, but in the end of the story, when Stanley gets released, he begs Stanley to reach out to his mother to tell her that he is sorry.
His real name is Ricky and he is a white boy. He is fourth in line for water. In Stanley´s mind he is particularly funny – looking: he has a long skinny neck, a big round head and frizzy blond hair. ZigZag picks on Stanley for “making” Zero digging parts of his hole and provokes him. Zigzag is unaware of the private deal between Stanley and Zero and finds it unfair. In the end, Zero is blamed for beating up ZigZag.
This boy´s real name is José and he is Hispanic. He stands in line in front of Stanley and Zero. He is the one who steals the bag full of sunflower seeds, which belongs to one of the counsellors.
The warden is a tall woman with red hair, freckles and long red finger nails. She is the boss of Camp Green Lake.
She paints her nails with rattlesnake venom and scratches those who do not obey her rules. She uses them to scratch Mr. Sir´s face when he complains about his stolen sack of sunflower seeds.
The warden of the camp lives all alone in a small cabin close to the camp. We learn that she does not force the boys dig the holes as a means of punishment or rehabilitation. Instead, Stanley finds out, she is searching for something and has been her whole life.
The Warden pretends to be nice: she treats the boys with extra water after X – Ray hands over the gold tube, which was originally found by Stanley. She plays the understanding and caring woman, who only wants the best for the boys. But in fact, she is very sneaky because she only pretends to be good, as long as the boys work really hard to find more treasures. She is, in reality, very sneaky. She does not care about others, about their needs or feelings. She even wants to make Zero disappear when his presence becomes a nuisance to her.
Other interesting people
also known as ‘Kissin’ Kate Barlow, the famous outlaw, is rumored to have hidden her treasure on the present-day grounds of Camp Green Lake.
Kate, a young white school teacher in the town of Green Lake in the late 19th century, becomes an outlaw only after her love, Sam, a black onion seller is murdered. Because one hundred and ten years ago, racial segregation was widespread and socially accepted and the love between Katherine and Sam is against law, the people of Green Lake kill Sam in order to reestablish the social order.
During her outlaw life, Kate fights for the underdog and takes the law into her own hands to avenge the unjust murder of Sam.
When Sam is killed, her attitude towards the people of Green Lake changes and she becomes a strong woman trying to use her strength and power for the good. She chooses to live outside of the law since the laws of the time are morally abhorrent to her.
In this context, Kate and the Warden are both strong women but the Warden uses her power to make other´s work for her and she subordinates the boys for her own good.
Sachar, Louis. New York: Yearling, 1998. Print