Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats, who seems to be under a family curse, which could explain his bad luck in being sentenced to a boys’ detention center called Camp Green Lake, for a crime he never committed.
Camp Green Lake is a true misnomer. What used to be a lovely town up to the late 19th century is now a desert wasteland. This charming verdant town was shocked to its core when the white school teacher of the time, Katherine Barlow, fell in love with Sam, a black onion seller. Because interracial relationships were forbidden at the time, this mixed-race love affair triggered violent racism in Green Lake. Sam was murdered by a rival white suitor. Katherine, heartbroken at the death of her lover, vowed revenge and became the famous outlaw “Kissin Kate Barlow”. The treasure that she amassed was buried in Green Lake, which – almost as an act of divine justice – stopped receiving rainfall and turned from oasis to desert almost overnight.
It is to this wasteland that Stanley and other “troublemaking boys” are sent. When Stanely arrives at this camp, he is forced to join the boys dig seemingly random holes in the desert. He quickly realizes, however, that he is not digging holes “to build character”, but rather because the warden of the camp seems to be searching for something. It turns out that this warden is actually a descendant of Sam’s murderer. She is on a mission to find Kissin’ Kate’s buried treasure and uses the boys to that end.
Stanley, an overweight outsider, becomes a member of a boys’ group and even makes an unikely friendship with a black boy called Zero, whom he teaches to read. After a violent altercation occurs among the boys, who misunderstand this friendship, Zero runs away from camp into dangerously hot desert. Stanley, an unlikely hero, goes after him and finds him weak and ill. After a harrowing journey through the desert and up a mountain, they evenually make their way back to camp whereupon they find Kissin’ Kate’s treasure.
These life threatening adventures draw the boys even closer together and help them to become physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger. And, of course, the discovery of the buried treasure ensures a happy ending for both.