What was so riveting about this story of an innocent preteen boy who by some quirk of
fate lands in a grueling detention camp? It is not believable, to be sure - a handful of boys
digging holes in the desert for reasons unknown even to them. Any state would surely out-
law such a correction camp for juveniles.
Yet there is something believable about Stanley Yelnats, the story's protagonist. His
sincerity stands out as a young boy struggling to "make the best" of the bad blow he's been
dealt. It calls to mind how each of us, although not landing in jail, has been going about our
lives, relatively unfettered, only to have something"throw us a loop," some event or otherwise
preempt our plans or redirect them.
Stanley's reaction to his forced captivity doesn't seem to be typical of a teenager in his
situation. He appears rather passive about it, certainly wanting and hoping to get out but not
necessarily exhausting himself to figure out a way. Of course, he and the other juvenile
detainees were free to "run off" into the desert, but it was almost certain death from dehydra-
tion,starvation, or heat stroke. Most teenagers in such a dire situation would have stated in
clear terms to their parents that they were in peril. This story's hero chose not to reveal to his
parents, not to cry for help. He even painted them a different picture, like it was a real "camp,"
for boys - like Greenlake was a real lake when actually there was no water source in site.
Obviously, Stanley's motives were not to dismay his parents.
Maybe because he thought
he couldn't get out of it - the judge had ordered his servitude. But you have to admire how
"grown up" he was in his thinking. In his attitude. He was trying to get back home, to the
world he knew before he was thrown into this "hell hole" but he didn't want to burden his
parents, his loved ones, if he could escape on his own. He had enough fortitude not "crack"
under pressure. He had enough adaptability to withstand all the unfairness thrown his way
by some of his fellow "inmates" and especially the camp's warden and managers.
Stanley's strength of character when out in the desert with Zero endears us to him. The
way he saves Zero's life and preserves his own, surviving the brutal desert temperatures and
Children readers of this story saw, in Stanley, a genuinely likable young man, with his
traits of compassion, unselfishness, affinity, and genuineness. He didn't "rat" on his other
'"inmates" when he would have been justified to do so. He didn't try to get revenge. Stanley's
individuality and the way Louis Sacher wove the dual plots ( Kate Barlow ) together with his
vivid imagination can't help but enchant you.