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by Louis Sachar

Published by Frances Foster / Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998
233 pages
ISBN: 0-374-33265-7

Ages 10 - 14

In this age of gloom and doom in children's fiction, it's refreshing to find a truly funny book for kids. Sachar's over-the-top satire has depth, originality and loads of child appeal. Poor Stanley Yelnats is convinced he'll never get ahead in life due to a curse brought on his family by his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." Falsely charged with the theft of a pair of valuable sneakers, Stanley is sent to a juvenile detention camp where he is forced, day after day, to dig a hole that's exactly five feet across and five feet deep. Sound grim? It is! But what makes this funny is Stanley's understated, deadpan description of the camp, the people in charge of it (Mr. Sir, Mr. Pedanski, and The Warden), the other delinquents (Zero, Zigzag, Armpit, X-Ray, Magnet, and Squid), and how their story fits together with the historical events which led to his family's infamous curse. The intricacy of the plot, eccentricity of the characters, and overall absurdity of the story reminds us of the novels of Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game; Figgs & Phantoms). Just beneath the surface of this entertaining tale, however, is a more serious statement about the enduring power of friendship and loyalty when the odds are stacked against you -- curse or no curse. CCBC categories: Fiction for Children (KTH; Dec 7)  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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