Book Pairing: Holes and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The books in this book pairing focus on a boy who is under a family curse and on his struggles to rise above that curse. | A review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This is my final book pairing of the year! I’ve really enjoyed participating in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge this year (despite the fact that I procrastinated on actually writing the posts!). If you’ve missed all my previous book pairing posts (you can see them herehere, here, here, here, and here), here’s the deal. I’m taking part in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge based on this BuzzFeed article.

The last pairing I’m going to review is Holes by Louis Sacher and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Here’s the connection, according to BuzzFeed:

Both Holes and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao read as modern mythology, featuring two curse-afflicted protagonists who can’t catch a break. They’re tales of misfits and survival, and the cruelty that Oscar faces as an overweight Dominican-American teen obsessed with sci-fi is just as harsh and alienating as that of Stanley Yelnats’ prison camp.

Holes

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I absolutely loved this book as a kid. It’s a fun, interesting story, told in chapters so short (two or three pages, typically) that I read it compulsively, almost in one sitting. There are flashbacks to Stanley’s ancestors which are interwoven into the present-day narrative in a way that I found fascinating. I enjoyed the movie as well–it’s the main reason why I can never actually hate Shia LaBeouf. Louis Sacher is great at writing slightly off-kilter setups for his relatable characters, and this book is one of his best.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú — the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim – until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Oscar is also part of a family that has been cursed for generations, and like Stanley, Oscar is feeling the weight of his ancestor’s mistakes. He’s overweight, awkward, and can’t get a girl to save his life. As the chapters go by, we see the family history, including Oscar’s sister, mother, and grandparents, that has led to this point. (Sometimes, though, I found myself getting confused about who was narrating or who the chapter was about–context doesn’t always make it clear.) The book has a fair amount of cursing, sex, and violence, so please be aware before you check out this book!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

I wouldn’t have thought to put these two books together, but when I think about it, they both have a main character who can’t seem to catch a break. There’s some sort of curse upon each boy’s family that makes it impossible for them to get ahead. Oscar Wao has a lot more adult themes, from sex to violence to cursing (in Spanish and English), but the concept is the same. That said, the feel of each book is very different. Oscar Wao is told in a casual manner, from the viewpoint of one of the minor characters in the story, while Holes is narrated in a more typical way. Still, they’re both interesting books and a pretty good pairing as well.

Have you read either of these books (or book series)? How do you think they stack up to each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Happy New Year, everybody!

About Monica

I am obsessed with all things books. I’m a music teacher by day and a freelance editor by night.

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