adore this book. The intricate weaving of three storylines – three fantastic storylines – and memorable characters. And, I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from the love story between Miss Katherine and Onion Sam – even now.

I first discovered this book on audiobook and would listen to it when my daughter was a baby. We were living at Lake Rotoma  – a gorgeous lake settlement in between Whakatane and Rotorua – and I would play audiobooks in the car when we drove into town (usually a 40 or 50 minute journey depending on which direction we decided to go that day). Holes, narrated by Kerry Beyer, was one of my favourites at that time.  Kerry’s voice is perfect for it. And his voices for the characters are superb. I would be laughing out loud (or sobbing) as I drove along.

What I Love:

  • Stanley Yelnats’ name.
  • Zero.
  • How Stanley’s great-great-grandfather was cursed.
  • How everything ties in together at the end.

Favourite Quotes:

One of the funniest lines in the story (and there are many!):

Whenever anything went wrong, they always blamed Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather…who had stolen a pig from a one-legged Gypsy, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants.

The love story. Swoon. This is longish, but so good:

Whenever Katherine Barlow bought onions, she always bought an extra one or two and would let Mary Lou eat them out of her hand.

“Is something wrong?” Sam asked her one day as she was feeding Mary Lou. “You seem distracted.”

“Oh, just the weather,” said Miss Katherine. “It looks like rain clouds moving in.”

“Me and Mary Lou, we like the rain,” said Sam.

“Oh, I like it fine,” said Miss Katherine, as she rubbed the donkey’s rough hair on top of its head. “It’s just that the roof leaks in the schoolhouse.”

“I can fix that,” said Sam.

“What are you going to do?” Katherine joked. “Fill the holes with onion paste?”

Sam laughed. “I’m good with my hands,” he told her. “I built my own boat. If it leaked, I’d be in big trouble.”

Katherine couldn’t help but notice his strong, firm hands.

They made a deal. He agreed to fix the leaky roof in exchange for six jars of spiced peaches.

It took Sam a week to fix the roof, because he could only work in the afternoons, after school let out and before night classes began. Sam wasn’t allowed to attend classes because he was a Negro, but they let him fix the building.

Miss Katherine usually stayed in the schoolhouse, grading papers and such, while Sam worked on the roof. She enjoyed what little conversation they were able to have, shouting up and down to each other. She was surprised by his interest in poetry. When he took a break, she would sometimes read a poem to him. On more than one occasion, she would start to read a poem by Poe or Longfellow, only to hear him finish it to her, from memory…

By the end of the first semester, Onion Sam had turned the old run-down schoolhouse into a well-crafted, freshly painted jewel of a building that the whole town was proud of. People passing by would stop and admire it. “That’s our schoolhouse. It shows how much we value education here in Green Lake.”

The only person who wasn’t happy with it was Miss Katherine. She’d run out of things needing to be fixed.

She sat at her desk one afternoon, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof. No water leaked into the classroom, except for the few drops that came from her eyes.

“Onions! Hot sweet onions!” Sam called, out on the street.

She ran to him. She wanted to throw her arms around him but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead she hugged Mary Lou’s neck.

“Is something wrong?” he asked her.

“Oh, Sam,” she said. “My heart is breaking.”

“I can fix that,” said Sam. She turned to him. He took hold of both of her hands, and kissed her.