Here you will find a Holes summary (Louis Sachar's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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A young lad named Stanley Yelnats, suffering from a string of misfortunes due to a generational curse, is wrongfully sent to a youth correctional facility, Camp Green Lake. Here, he and the other detained boys are coerced into digging expansive holes under the harsh sun, a seemingly pointless task. Eventually, Stanley discerns that the facility's Warden has a hidden agenda, and the narrative seamlessly weaves three different accounts to unravel the curse's origin and the Warden's undisclosed intentions. Stanley's great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, once acquired a pig from a one-legged gypsy, Madame Zeroni, in a pact. The promise was that once the pig matured, Elya would carry Madame Zeroni up a mountain and serenade her with a song she taught him. Tragically, Elya, heartbroken and disillusioned with his love life, emigrates to America, neglecting his vow to Madame Zeroni. Despite living a fulfilling life in America, he is haunted by the curse he believes Madame Zeroni bestowed upon him for his unfulfilled promise. Green Lake, the site of Camp Green Lake, was once a thriving town with blooming peach trees. However, a tragic love between Katherine Barlow, the school teacher, and Sam, an onion seller, ignites a racial controversy resulting in Sam's death and Katherine's descent into madness, becoming the notorious outlaw, Kissin’ Kate Barlow. After decades of looting, Kate buries a significant treasure taken from Stanley's great-grandfather, kicking off a relentless yet fruitless search by Charles Walker and his wife, Linda. As the once flourishing Green Lake dries up, the town's populace eventually vacates, and Camp Green Lake emerges as a correctional facility for troubled boys. Stanley, struggling under the harsh conditions, discovers a lipstick tube bearing the initials "KB." Establishing a connection to Kate Barlow, Stanley begins to suspect the Warden's underlying intentions. Amidst the brooding tension, Stanley befriends a boy named Zero, who unbeknownst to them, is the descendant of Madame Zeroni. After Zero flees from camp, Stanley follows, leading them to an old onion field on a mountain, surviving the harsh conditions by eating onions. Upon their return, they decide to look for Kate Barlow's hidden treasure. The boys discover a suitcase bearing the Yelnats name, and despite the Warden's desperate attempts to claim it, Stanley's lawyer arrives in time to declare Stanley's innocence. The suitcase, laden with valuables, is recognised to be the same one stolen by Kate Barlow from Stanley's great-grandfather. The story concludes with the apparent lifting of the Yelnats' curse, the reunion of Hector and his long-lost mother, a successful invention by Stanley's father, and the transformation of Stanley himself.
Camp Green Lake, once a flourishing lake but now a desolate, arid land, is presented. Over a century ago, the lake evaporated and the locals left. The dry land typically reaches ninety-five degrees. A hammock nestled between a pair of trees provides the only refuge from the sun, but it's off-limits, claimed by the Warden. The campers of Camp Green Lake, however, must face the brutal sun - along with rattlesnakes and scorpions that lurk in the shadows of rocks and the holes they dig. As treacherous as these creatures are, the yellow-spotted lizard poses the greatest threat, its bite resolutely deadly.
Camp Green Lake is a place for boys who have broken the law. This camp has them dig holes, believing it will shape them into law-abiding citizens. The main character, Stanley Yelnats, imagines it to be similar to a summer camp. Stanley, having never experienced summer camp due to his family's poverty, is faced with a choice by a judge: Camp Green Lake or prison. He opts for the camp.
Stanley is on his way to Camp Green Lake, accompanied by a bus driver and an armed guard. He takes along a backpack containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, and stationery for writing to his mom. In his mind, he pretends he's headed to a luxurious summer camp. Despite his weight issues, which draw unkind comments from his peers and teachers, Stanley is optimistic about making friends at camp. His math teacher, Mrs. Bell, had once used his weight to illustrate a ratio, comparing him to a boy a third of his size. The day of this lesson, Stanley was apprehended for a crime he didn't commit. Stanley's family, the Yelnats, are often victims of bad luck, which they attribute to Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten- pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. This ancestor had stolen a pig from a one-legged Gypsy, who in turn cursed the entire lineage. Despite their disbelief in curses, bad luck seems to follow the family. Stanley's father, a hard-working but unfortunate inventor, often sings about a wolf and a bird wishing for an easier life. Stanley, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, all share the same name — Stanley Yelnats, which is spelled the same backwards. All the Yelnatses try to remain hopeful regardless of the misfortune that befalls them. The family's run of bad luck began with Stanley’s great-grandfather, who amassed a fortune in the stock market but lost it all when he was robbed by the notorious outlaw, Kissin' Kate Barlow, during his move from New York to California. Had he not been robbed, Stanley might have been living in a Californian mansion instead of their Texas apartment that smells of burnt rubber and foot odor due to his dad's continual attempts to invent a way to recycle old sneakers. Stanley finds it exciting that his ancestor was robbed by a famous outlaw, even though Kate Barlow didn’t kiss his great-grandfather, a 'privilege' she reserved for men she killed. Finally, Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake, which ironically lacks any greenery.
Stanley steps off the bus into the scorching heat, leaving him disoriented and parched. In the barren landscape, he spies a few tents, a couple of buildings, and a cabin flanked by two trees. He enters a building marked as Camp Green Lake Juvenile Correctional Facility and notices a sign banning guns, explosives, drugs, and alcohol, which he thinks is a given. Inside the cool building, he encounters Mr. Sir, a sunflower-seed munching individual who introduces himself and insists Stanley always address him as Mr. Sir, reminding him, "You're not in the Girl Scouts anymore." Stripping down, Stanley is inspected by Mr. Sir to ensure he isn't hiding anything. He receives two orange jumpsuits, T-shirts, yellow socks, and a towel. Mr. Sir informs him that one outfit will be used for labor and the other for rest, and one set will be laundered every three days. Stanley's daily obligation is to dig one hole, five feet deep and wide, using his five-foot shovel as a measurement tool, even on weekends. They begin their days early, at 4:30am, to avoid the worst of the heat. Mr. Sir explains there's no point in running away as they're surrounded by desert, with the only water supply at the camp. He admits to having a gun, but it's solely for killing yellow-spotted lizards. When Stanley admits he's thirsty, Mr. Sir simply tells him to get used to it.
The camp is divided into six sections, from A to F, with F being reserved for the counselors while the remaining are for juvenile offenders. Stanley is allocated to D section under the supervision of the genial Mr. Pendanski, who reminds Stanley to steer clear of trouble with the Warden. He assures Stanley of his intentions to reform him. Knowing that proclaiming his innocence won't help, Stanley pledges to make a change. Mr. Pendanski then introduces him to two fellow campers, Rex (X-Ray) and Alan (Squid). Despite their grubby appearances, Stanley eventually discerns that X-Ray is black and Squid, white. X-Ray inquires about Barf Bag's whereabouts to which Mr. Pendanski, who only uses the boys' real names, discloses that Lewis is hospitalized and won't be returning. Stanley is shown Barf Bag's former cot, crammed with six others in a tiny room. Mr. Pendanski also introduces him to José (Magnet), Theodore (Armpit), and Ricky (Zigzag). The final lad Stanley meets is Zero, who Mr. Pendanski jokingly remarks, is named so because there's nothing in his head. Often referred to as "mom" by the boys, Mr. Pendanski encourages them to help Stanley acclimate to the camp before leaving. Seeking water, Stanley approaches Theodore only to be met with hostility. Theodore, who insists on being called Armpit, harshly informs him that the water can be found near the shower.
Stanley has a quick, cold shower due to the four-minute limit and lack of hot water. At dinner, he tells another camper about his alleged crime of stealing sneakers from renowned baseball star, Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston, but nobody believes him. As he settles in his odorous cot, Stanley recalls the incident for which he was falsely accused. Derrick Dunne, Stanley's school tormentor, had dumped his notebook in the bathroom toilet. Because Stanley was bigger, the teachers never trusted his claims of Derrick's bullying. After retrieving his notebook from the toilet, Stanley missed the bus and had to walk home. During his walk, sneakers fell from an overpass, striking him. Knowing his father's interest in sneaker experiments, Stanley sprinted home with the foul-smelling shoes. Unfortunately, he was stopped by a police car and the shoes were confiscated. Later, Stanley discovered the shoes were Clyde Livingston's donated items for a homeless shelter fundraiser. Clyde himself had stayed at the shelter during his youth. Stanley was wrongfully convicted for the theft and sent to Camp Green Lake.
Stanley struggles to dig a hole due to the tough ground and blisters forming on his hands. Mr. Pendanski informs him that digging is intended to build character, but any unusual discoveries should be reported since the Warden is interested in such things. The chapter also delves into Stanley's family roots. Elya Yelnats, Stanley's Latvian great-great-grandfather, had fallen for 14-year-old Myra Menke at the age of fifteen. However, Myra was also the object of affection for the 57-year-old pig farmer, Igor Barkov. Elya, lacking a pig to offer Myra's family, turns to his one-footed Egyptian friend, Madame Zeroni, for help. Unlike his peers, who enjoyed mud wrestling, Elya was fond of Madame Zeroni's stories. Madame Zeroni attempts to persuade Elya to give up on the simple and fragile Myra and instead journey to America like her son. However, a heartbroken Elya insists, leading Madame Zeroni to reluctantly give him a piglet to raise. She instructs him to carry the pig up a mountain with an uphill flowing stream and sing a special song to it every day, promising the pig will grow. She also makes Elya swear that, after he presents the pig to Myra's father, he will carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain and sing to her. Failure to do so, she warns, would result in a family curse. Elya agrees to Madame Zeroni’s demands but soon realizes Myra’s lack of intelligence and indifference towards her marital prospects. Disappointed, he forgets his promise to Madame Zeroni and heads to America. There, he learns English, marries a strong, intelligent woman, and teaches her Madame Zeroni's song about a woodpecker and a wolf wishing for easier lives. The couple names their son Stanley Yelnats, the reverse of his father’s name. Despite their diligent work, they experience bad luck, leading Elya to suspect that Madame Zeroni’s curse might be real.
The lethal yellow-spotted lizard is characterized. These creatures feature eleven yellow marks, which blend with their yellow-green scales. Their mouths hold black teeth and white tongues. They favor residing in holes, which provide them coolness, and have the ability to spring from even the deepest cavities to ambush their food. Other than small wildlife, bugs, and cactus needles, these lizards have a preference for sunflower seeds.
After a tiring day of digging his initial hole, Stanley trudges back to camp and heads to the rec room, ironically termed the wreck room due to its state of disrepair. He accidentally collides with a bigger boy looking to start a conflict, which he attempts to evade. Thankfully, X-Ray and Armpit intervene, deterring the boy with the warning, "You don't want to mess with the Caveman." Joined by Squid, the group discusses the challenges of hole-digging. Stanley had carried his stationary box to the wreck room with the intent of writing a letter to his mom, to keep her from worrying. Despite receiving a surly look from Squid when he shares his plan, Stanley waits for Squid's departure before starting his letter. In it, he paints a cheerful picture of his time at camp, claiming to be enjoying himself and spending lots of time swimming. As he writes, he spots Zero watching him intently, who inquires, "Did the shoes have red X's on the back?" Stanley confirms they did, right as Armpit and Squid summon Caveman for dinner. It's then that Stanley understands his nickname is Caveman.
While laboring on his second hole, Stanley discovers a fish fossil. Hoping it might earn him respite from the grueling dig, he recalls Mr. Pendanski's assertion that a significant find can result in an early finish. As the water truck arrives, Stanley becomes aware of a hierarchy among the boys - X-Ray leads, followed by Armpit, Squid, Zigzag, Magnet, Zero, and finally, Stanley himself. However, his hopes are dashed when Mr. Pendanski dismisses the fossil as unimportant to the Warden, forcing Stanley to continue his labor.
X-Ray makes Stanley promise to hand over any valuable finds, justifying it by the fact he's been at the camp longer. He reveals his nickname's origin—it's Rex in pig latin. Despite his name, X-Ray doesn't see well, making it hard for him to locate any treasures. Wanting X-Ray's approval, Stanley concurs. He puzzles over X-Ray's authoritative position, considering he's the second smallest boy there, with Stanley being the biggest. As he digs, Stanley daydreams about Derrick Dunne, his school bully, getting beaten by the camp boys—a thought that brings him joy.
After Stanley completes his second digging task, he heads back to the camp and discovers Mr. Pendanski in a conversation with his group. Mr. Pendanski begins to question each boy about their career aspirations post their time at Camp Green Lake. He even suggests that Zero, who is usually considered hopeless, might have some worth. He then proceeds to ask Zero about his plans after the camp. Initially, Zero doesn't respond, but eventually, he says that he enjoys digging holes.
Stanley uncovers a miniature golden tube bearing a heart and the initials KB while digging. He's previously promised X-Ray that he would hand over any discovered items, enabling X-Ray to take a day off. Though hesitant, Stanley hands over the golden tube to X-Ray. Since the day is almost over, Stanley advises X-Ray to hold onto the tube until the next day. That way, if the Warden likes the find, X-Ray can enjoy a full day off rather than just an hour. X-Ray agrees to Stanley's idea. Later, as everyone forms the water line, X-Ray asks Stanley to move one spot ahead in the line, before Zero.
Stanley, the next day, queries X-Ray about the object. X-Ray snaps back at Stanley, feigning ignorance about the subject. During their excavation work, X-Ray only acts to discover the golden tube once the water truck arrives at the holes. Mr. Pendanski is sent to alert the Warden about X-Ray's discovery. The Warden is a tall, freckle-faced redhead who dresses in a cowboy hat and black cowboy boots with turquoise stones. She rewards X-Ray with a day off and instructs Mr. Pendanski to refill the boys' canteens. When Mr. Pendanski mentions he just filled them, the Warden, visibly upset, checks with Stanley, referring to him as Caveman, whether his canteen is filled. Since it isn't, she sternly tells Mr. Pendanski to fill them, not to challenge her directive.
The Warden assigns X-Ray a day of rest, with Zero filling in for him by digging his hole while Stanley is tasked to rummage through the soil that Zero unearths. They follow a system where one boy digs while another sifts through the dirt. The reward for discovering anything is doubled shower time and a day of leisure. Stanley ponders over the fact that the Warden is aware of his nickname, Caveman. Zigzag reveals the existence of concealed cameras and microphones around the camp, explaining her knowledge. This revelation also explains X-Ray's reluctance to discuss the found object during breakfast. Stanley concludes that the Warden's motive behind the digging tasks is to uncover something. He memorizes the spot where he unearthed the golden tube.
Stanley steps into the Wreck room, observing the worn-out boys, apart from X-Ray who seems pleased about his day off. Zigzag grumbles about the noise interfering with his TV viewing, despite the television being broken. The following day, the Warden shadows the boys at their work sites. Stanley, while rummaging through the dirt, contemplates about the gold tube's potential significance. The Warden, growing weary, instructs Mr. Sir to quicken the boys' pace. Post digging, the boys return to the Wreck room. Mr. Pendanski presents Stanley with a letter, leading to mockery from Armpit and Squid about it being from his mom, but X-Ray intervenes. After the boys depart for dinner, Stanley peruses his mother's letter. In her letter, Stanley's mother expresses that she's proud of him and mentions the threat of eviction due to his father's smelly shoe experiments. She humorously empathizes with the old lady who lived in a shoe due to the stench. Stanley chuckles at this, prompting Zero's curiosity. Stanley is taken aback as he thought he was alone. He shares his mother's words with Zero, who is unfamiliar with the old lady and her shoe. Stanley inquires if Zero ever watched Sesame Street, only to receive a blank stare. Stanley then leaves Zero to join dinner.
The boys persist in digging at the location where the Warden suspects the gold tube is buried. However, her patience begins to wane after about ten days. On a day when Armpit returns from using the restroom, the Warden abruptly thrusts a pitchfork at him, causing him to fall into a hole and bleed onto his shirt. Subsequently, she accuses Mr. Pendanski of over-hydrating the boys. As the digging carries on, Zigzag inadvertently strikes Stanley's head with a shovel, creating a cut near his ear. Mr. Sir improvises with a sunflower seed sack to bandage the injury, then instructs Stanley to resume digging. Far from being remorseful, Zigzag even demands Stanley to clear the dirt that was on his shovel during the incident.
The following day, the boys start their digging in a new part of the parched lake. Stanley, having grown stronger, completes his tasks more quickly. He retreats to his tent to write a letter to his mother in privacy, away from the prying eyes of the other boys. He catches Zero peeking over his shoulder once more. Zero admits his illiteracy, pleading Stanley to be his teacher. Stanley, however, declines his request.
Stanley is awakened one night by Squid's sobs. The following day, he checks on Squid, who responds with a threat, promising to harm Stanley if he speaks again. Fearing their wrath, Stanley limits communication with the other boys. He appreciates the lack of racial tension within the group; their shared grime making them indistinguishable despite their different ethnicities. A day comes when Magnet swipes Mr. Sir's sack of sunflower seeds after he fills their water containers. Stanley ends up with the sack after Magnet tosses it to him, causing the seeds to scatter in Stanley's hole. When Mr. Sir finds Stanley with the empty sack, Stanley finds himself in trouble again. Stanley falsely admits to stealing, prompting Mr. Sir to take him to the Warden.
Stanley is escorted to the Warden by Mr. Sir who suspects a sunflower seed theft, but believes Stanley is innocent. The Warden requests Stanley carry over a makeup box containing various items including a lipstick and a red nail polish bottle. The Warden reveals the polish is laced with rattlesnake venom, which is harmless when dry but poisonous when wet. She paints her nails and unexpectedly strikes Mr. Sir on the face. His resultant agony is due to the still wet, venomous polish. Stanley shows concern for Mr. Sir's wellbeing, but the Warden dismissively assures him, "He's not going to die…Unfortunately for you."
Returning to his excavation, Stanley contemplates the mental state of his great-grandfather post his encounter with Kissin' Kate Barlow, left alone in the harsh desert. By the moment his great-grandfather was found, he had lost his sanity, asserting he had "found refuge on God's thumb." Upon regaining his health, he wed a nurse from the hospital, but the cryptic meaning behind "God's thumb" remained a mystery to him. Stanley is surprised to find his hole already dug by Zero upon his arrival.
After the others leave the tent, Stanley expresses his gratitude to Zero for helping with his digging task. Zero's reason for assisting is rooted in his belief that Stanley didn't take the sunflower seeds. Stanley affirms that Zero is also not guilty of stealing the seeds, which prompts Zero to remind Stanley, "You didn't steal the sneakers." This leads Stanley to suggest teaching Zero to read as part of a trade-off deal. In return, Zero will dig for Stanley for an hour each day, reducing Stanley's fatigue when teaching. As Stanley starts teaching, he finds out that Zero has a strong aptitude for math. Zero confesses his dislike for answering questions, despite others presuming him as unintelligent. Stanley spends the night wondering how X-Ray will react to Zero digging for him. His mind also wanders back to the golden tube he discovered, realizing it's similar to something he saw in the Warden's bathroom; it's half of a lipstick container. The initials KB on it cause Stanley to ponder if they could signify Kate Barlow.
A century and a decade ago, Green Lake was a picturesque water body, adorned by peach trees along its coast. Miss Katherine Barlow, the schoolhouse's lone teacher, was celebrated for her homemade spiced peaches, which could be stored for over a year. Charles Walker, infamous as Trout Walker due to his foul-smelling feet, attended her classes. Trout, however, was more interested in winning Miss Katherine's affection than in learning, as he came from the town's wealthiest family. He once invited Miss Katherine for a boat ride in his newly acquired motorboat. Accustomed to his way, Trout was taken aback and infuriated by Miss Katherine's rejection.
Mr. Sir, at Camp Green Lake, is infuriated by a boy who remarks on his disfigured face, a result of the Warden's rattlesnake poison. Later, when he brings water to the camp, he intentionally skips Stanley.
Over a century earlier, Sam, a local onion vendor, provided the townsfolk of Green Lake with onion-based remedies. His donkey, Mary Lou, helped him transport his goods while his secret onion field was located across the lake, where water strangely flowed uphill. The townsfolk patronized both Sam and the doctor for health treatments. Sam was enlisted by Miss Katherine to fix her schoolhouse roof, paying him with her homemade spiced peaches. Despite being unable to attend school due to his race, Sam found pleasure in his chats with Miss Katherine about various topics, including poetry, which prompted her to keep finding things for him to repair. Once there was nothing else to mend in the schoolhouse, a heartbroken Miss Katherine confided in Sam, leading to an intimate moment between them. However, they were spotted by a town resident, Hattie Parker, who ominously whispered, "God will punish you."
Over a century ago, when Green Lake wasn't dry, word got around that Miss Katherine and Sam shared a kiss, which was illegal at that time due to their differing racial backgrounds. The enraged townsfolk assault the schoolhouse, forcing Miss Katherine to flee to the sheriff for protection. But she finds him inebriated and ready to execute Sam. He taunts her, demanding a kiss by saying, "Kiss me…You kissed the onion picker. Why won't you kiss me?" In desperation, she locates Sam and together they escape in his boat. Despite Sam's strength, they're overtaken by Trout Walker's motorboat. Walker rams into Sam's boat and fatally shoots him. Katherine is taken back to land where she discovers that Mary Lou, Sam's mule, has also been killed. Following these events, rain ceases to fall on Green Lake. The author leaves it to the reader's interpretation by stating, "You make the decision: Whom did God punish?" Three days post Sam's demise, Katherine murders the Sheriff and puts on lipstick to kiss his lifeless face. Known thereafter as Kissin' Kate Barlow, she becomes a notorious outlaw in the West for the next twenty years.
Stanley maintains his hole-digging routine, cautiously using his water since he's certain Mr. Sir won't refill it. Unexpectedly, Mr. Sir refills Stanley's canteen, but takes it to an unseen location before bringing it back, causing Stanley to pour it out due to fear of contamination. The boys ridicule Stanley when Zero helps him dig, labeling him as a slave owner. X-Ray comments, " Same old story…the white boy sits while the black boy does all the work." Stanley persistently tutors Zero, who quickly grasps new concepts. Eventually, Zero writes his name, revealing to Stanley that his true name is Hector Zeroni.
Two decades following her outlaw lifestyle, Kate Barlow finds herself back at Green Lake, residing near a cabin by a pair of oak trees, pretending Sam is with her. However, her peaceful life is interrupted when Trout Walker and his red-haired wife, Linda Miller, ambush her in her sleep. Facing financial difficulties, Trout presses Kate to reveal the location of her hidden outlaw treasure. They force her to tread the scorching sand barefoot until she succumbs to a fatal bite from a yellow-spotted lizard. Despite their torment, Kate never reveals the location of her wealth.
Temperatures rise at Camp Green Lake. Stanley observes a shadowy sky towards the western mountains. Thunder rumbles and lightning flashes, yet no rain falls. In the flickering light, Stanley perceives one mountain as a colossal fist with an extended thumb. He recalls his great-grandfather's tale of seeking shelter on God's thumb.
Stanley spends his day contemplating on the connection between Kate Barlow, her gold lipstick tube, and God's thumb, while continuing his hole-digging duty. The other boys ridicule him for letting Zero dig his hole, leading to a physical altercation when Zigzag shoves Stanley. Mr. Pendanski intervenes, urging Stanley to retaliate. Stanley barely touches Zigzag, who then aggressively attacks him. Zero intervenes, nearly seriously hurting Zigzag until Armpit separates them. The sound of Mr. Pendanski's gunshot brings the Warden to the scene. She learns that Zero has been helping Stanley dig his hole in exchange for reading lessons. Mr. Pendanski mocks Zero's intelligence, stating, "You might as well try to teach this shovel to read! It's got more brains than Zero." Further humiliation ensues when Zero mispronounces a word spelled out by the Warden, leading to laughter. The Warden bans Stanley from teaching Zero, and Mr. Pendanski continues to berate Zero for his perceived stupidity. In rebellion, Zero declares he won't dig holes anymore. When Mr. Pendanski insinuates that Zero's only talent is hole-digging, Zero hits him with his shovel and escapes. The Warden instructs the remaining counselors to ignore Zero, confidently stating he will return for water. She then orders the six remaining boys to still dig seven holes.
Stanley feels frustration towards everyone, himself included, due to his guilt over letting Zero dig his hole. Despite his desire to assist Zero, he's unable to devise a plan that wouldn't lead to punishment from the Warden. His hope rests on Zero reaching the thumb-like mountain. The Warden and Mr. Pendanski question Stanley about Zero's whereabouts and plan to alter Zero's files to ensure his disappearance remains unnoticed. The two officials express their wish to keep Zero's situation hidden from the A.G.'s office. Eventually, they reach the conclusion that Zero's fate is of no concern to anyone.
A fresh-faced delinquent, apprehended for car theft, gets Zero's bed; he's Brian but X-Ray christens him Twitch due to his restlessness. Stanley's concern for Zero remains, and when Mr. Sir brings the truck with water, Stanley spontaneously opts to snatch it. Unfamiliar with driving, Stanley relies on Twitch's shouted instructions before making his escape. However, Stanley soon finds himself crashing the truck into a hole and he hastily flees the scene.
Stanley dashes off from the truck, unchased. His journey is marked by numerous pits and a group of yellow-spotted lizards residing in one. He flees from these creatures and eventually discovers a single sunflower seed within a sack made of burlap.
Stanley, drained of energy, moves towards the mountain shaped like a thumb. He spots something in the earth and discovers it's a piece of a boat, the Mary Lou. Underneath the boat is a hole, where he finds Zero.
Zero appears unwell yet insists on not returning to camp. He and Stanley find shelter underneath a boat to escape the heat. Zero still possesses the shovel he used to attack Mr. Pendanski. They discover numerous jars filled with a murky substance Zero names 'sploosh.' Despite suspecting the sploosh to be centuries old, Stanley, driven by thirst, decides to consume it and finds it tastes surprisingly like peaches. They have to forcefully open the final bottle of sploosh due to its tight seal. Zero starts experiencing stomach pains, which Stanley assumes might be a reaction to the sploosh.
Stanley and Zero move in the direction of God's thumb, frequently exchanging thumbs up gestures for mutual comfort throughout their journey. They take along Zero's digging tool and four intact jars of sploosh, stashed away in the sack previously filled with sunflower seeds. Zero is frequently plagued by intense bouts of abdominal discomfort. To distract him, Stanley keeps Zero engaged by teaching him to spell various words. Their path leads them upward towards the thumb. At a certain juncture, Zero uses the shovel to aid Stanley in scaling a portion of a cliff. This leaves Zero, already in a weakened state, with substantial wounds on his hands.
Stanley and Zero endeavor to reach the thumb-shaped landmark, yet their journey is interrupted as Zero suffers from sickness and vomits.
Zero faints, compelling Stanley to leave behind his shovel and jars in order to haul him up the mountain. Upon reaching the summit, Stanley is met with a pungent odor and muddy terrain. However, the sight of mud bolsters his spirits as it signifies the presence of water. He unearths an onion from the mud, which he and Zero share, each consuming half.
Stanley awakens in an expansive field, with Zero still unwell beside him. Zero confesses to being the actual thief of Clyde Livingston's shoes from the shelter for people without homes. He expresses remorse to Stanley, who then serenades Zero with Madame Zeroni's song, a melody taught to his ancestor long ago.
Stanley uncovers yet another onion and the tale whisks the reader back a century and a decade, to a time when Sam peddled onions. A grateful lady thanks Sam for the onion concoction that spared her daughter's life. The narrative then returns to Stanley and Zero, spending a couple of days nourishing themselves with onions and sipping murky water from muddy puddles. Stanley treks back down the mountain to retrieve the jars and the shovel he abandoned. He's taken aback by the large distance he traversed carrying Zero.
Zero recovers and confesses to Stanley his past of being homeless before he arrived at Camp Green Lake. He used to frequent the same homeless shelter where Clyde Livingston's shoes were kept. Believing that it was less wrong to snatch used shoes than new ones, Zero took them, unable to read the sign about their ownership. When the shelter's residents found the shoes missing, a commotion ensued, leading Zero to flee and leave the shoes atop a parked vehicle. The following day, Zero's theft of another pair of shoes led to his arrest.
Stanley and Zero craft a sizable hole using their shovel, in search of water. For the first time, Stanley feels an overwhelming sense of happiness. His arrest, which seemed initially unfortunate, has led to newfound self-esteem and a valuable friendship. Thoughts of a covert return to camp cross his mind, motivated by a suspicion there might be treasure in the hole where the lipstick container was discovered.
Zero and Stanley prepare to go back to Camp Green Lake, hoping to retrieve hidden treasure before running away. They fill their bottles with water and their sack with onions, and wait till morning to leave. In the meantime, Zero opens up about his past. He recalls his mom singing the same song Stanley did, but with different lyrics. His mother once left him in a park, promising to return, but she never did. On their trek back to camp, Zero corrects Stanley's direction when he veers off track. Once they arrive, they hide close to the spot where Stanley found the lipstick case.
When the night falls, Stanley continues his digging while Zero slips into the camp to gather food and water. Zero stumbles upon frosted flakes, a sweetness both boys find disgusting after a diet of onions for over a week. Eventually, Stanley and Zero unearth a suitcase. As they gear up to depart, they are suddenly blinded by a light and discover the Warden looming before them.
In this part of the story, the Warden illuminates Zero, clutching the suitcase, with a flashlight and discovers a lethal yellow-spotted lizard perched on it. Suddenly, Stanley becomes aware he's in the middle of a lizard lair. The Warden, Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir stay put, expecting the lizards to scatter. The Warden recalls her childhood days spent excavating holes with her family in search of the suitcase. Mr. Sir alludes to inquiries made by a lady and the A.G.
Stanley and Zero remain motionless while the Warden, Mr. Pendanski, and Mr. Sir discuss the narrative they will present to "the woman" and "the A.G". Mr. Pendanski callously jests about the ample graves available for Stanley and Zero postmortem. The Warden plans to convince "the woman" that a delirious Stanley ran off and met his fate via a lizard bite. Mr. Sir informs Stanley that his legal counsel had arrived the previous day proclaiming Stanley's innocence in the shoe theft.
The lizards retreat from Stanley as sunlight emerges. Zero probes Stanley, questioning if his first and last names are the same, but spelled inversely. Suddenly, Mr. Pendanski appears alongside a man and a woman. The woman identifies herself as Stanley's attorney, threatening to sue the Warden and the whole of Texas if Stanley is harmed. The Warden accuses Stanley of robbery, pointing at the suitcase held by Zero. As the lizards disperse, the Warden tries to snatch the suitcase, but Zero insists it is Stanley's possession. Zero then reveals Stanley Yelnats' name imprinted on the opposite side of the suitcase.
Ms. Morengo, Stanley's attorney, and the Attorney General are with Stanley. The Warden demands Stanley to reveal the contents of the suitcase, but Ms. Morengo advises Stanley against it and informs him he's free to leave. Stanley insists on leaving with Hector. Ms. Morengo requests for Hector's records, but they're missing due to Mr. Pendanski's erasure. As Ms. Morengo leaves with Hector and Stanley, Squid hands Stanley his mother's contact details, asking Stanley to inform her that Alan, or Squid, regrets his actions.
Yellow-spotted lizards didn't exist in Green Lake until after its water evaporated. A century ago, locals hunted rattlesnakes, aware of the lizards' presence. Sam would offer them onion juice because lizards avoid biting those with onion-infused blood. Back in the current timeline, Ms. Morengo introduces Stanley and Zero to Stanley's dad's foot odor remedy, which has a peachy aroma. She informs Stanley that the theft of the sneakers occurred at 3:15 pm. Five minutes later, Stanley was seen retrieving his notebook from the boy's restroom, negating his theft possibility. Zero confesses to the theft but Ms. Morengo disregards it, advising him to keep quiet. After over a century, Camp Green Lake experiences rainfall.
The story takes a turn, revealing some missing bits. Stanley's dad finds a solution for smelly feet, a day after his son’s monumental act - carrying the descendant of Madame Zeroni up a mountain. The infamous Camp Green Lake, under the control of Ms. Walker, is shut down, and she sells her ancestral land. The camp is set to become a haven for Girl Scouts. The unearthed suitcase holds precious gems and many high-value stocks and deeds. Stanley and Hector end up close to being millionaires from their discoveries. Stanley spoils his family with a new house while Hector seeks a private investigator to trace his mother. The distributor of this tale hints that to comprehend Stanley and Hector's circumstances better, one should observe a scene at the Yelnat's abode. Both boys are seen enjoying a commercial featuring Clyde Livingston promoting 'sploosh', a foot odor remedy invented by Stanley's father. Interestingly, Livingston is physically present at Stanley's home during this. Hector shares the screen with a woman bearing a striking resemblance to him, who serenades him with Madame Zeroni's song, the same one she taught Elya Yelnats.