A family curse, a false accusation, a local legend, and a series of coincidences come together in this generation-spanning tale of betrayal, injustice, and setting things rights.
Stanley Yelnats was in the wrong place at the wrong time…. and that got him sentenced to a corrupt juvenile correctional facility called Camp Green Lake. There he’s subjected to backbreaking labor under the hot Texas sun, and the general abuses heaped on him by both the staff and the other boys at the camp. His only respite is in the falsely reassuring letters he writes to his parents, and the gradual friendship he develops with an illiterate boy named Zero… who seems to know an awful lot about Stanley’s situation.
A quick read, with simple prose—sufficient for age 10+ and seemingly aimed specifically toward young males. Everything in the present is told from Stanley’s first-person point of view. His narrative is broken up periodically by two other stories taking place in the distant past. One involving his grandfather and a broken promise… the other regarding the tragic origins of an outlaw named Kissing Kate. Both emotions and descriptions end up feeling a bit thin throughout, or perhaps jumbled among the dry humor contained within two of the three storylines. The ending ties everything up in a neat bow, in ways readers may or may not be able to guess ahead of time.
Stanley was nice enough, yet a fairly bland character. Readers aren’t given much sense for his hobbies and interests, and only get the vaguest sense that he comes from a poor-yet-functional family. The real star of this book is (or perhaps should be) Zero. His background is nebulous for most of the book, and his persistence in the face of loss and abuse is beyond admirable. I wished Stanley were more curious about his friend earlier on, and regularly found myself wishing he could have been granted a POV.
The story itself holds a lot of folksy promise, and a solid moral core. But this reader would have preferred our protagonist shared the limelight.