A wonderful read filled with loving friendship, with a message against racism; some violence.
Stanley Yelnats (or, if you prefer to call him by his Camp Green Lake nickname, "Caveman") is arrested for stealing a famous baseball player's special pair of shoes. The baseball player, "Sweet Feet," himself had donated them to a homeless shelter for the rich people to pay money to come see, the proceeds of which would benefit the poor. After being falsley accused of stealing the shoes, Stanley is allowed to choose: jail or Camp Green Lake. He chooses Camp Green Lake.
The lake, however, is not properly named, much like Greenland or Iceland: it is not green, and it only used to be a lake. Now it is a camp where young boys go to build character. Or so everyone thinks at first.
The whole book is about boys who have been arrested for stealing, or for other crimes. Stanley didn't actually steal anything, but was wrongfully convicted; later in the book he is rewarded for a good deed. One of the other boys bullies a younger kid whom they call "Zero" because they think that he is a nobody, but Stanley makes friends with Zero and they see the "other side" in each other.
Zero cuts his hand on a shovel and blood is drawn, so he licks it off. At another point in the story, one character gets in a fight with Stanley and hits him over the head with another shovel.
The warden of the camp uses snake venom on people she dislikes. Mr. Sir smashes someone's head against a metal pot and attempts to choke him; he also prevents Stanley from being able to drink water while working, and Stanley becomes
dehydrated because of it. The Warden stabs a character with a pitchfork and blood is seen. A murder is referenced and plays a major part in the parallel plot, shootings happen at various parts in the story, and Kissin' Kate Barlow's killing of other people is mentioned (they are also done in a rather macabre fashion, which may unnerve young readers).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mr. Sir is said to have quit smoking, and now eats sunflower seeds.
Kissin' Kate was a feared outlaw who would kill and then kiss with signature red lipstick. Part of the parallel plot deals with romance between a black man and a white woman and how the people around them frowned upon the relationship, but there is no bad content involved.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
This book is a wonderful read, filled with suspense and action that makes it good for many ages. Through the complex plot, Sachar also addresses problems of racial equality, discrimination, and the like; elements of loyalty and friendship play major roles. The book does have some difficult themes, so it may be best as a read-aloud for younger children in a setting
where it can be discussed. The violence, also, can put readers off.