Have you just finished reading Louis Sachar's classic middle grade novel and need some good books like Holes to read next? You'll find some excellent titles right here. I've worked hard to include books that aren't on every other Holes read-alike list!
Holes is a brilliant mix of outdoor adventure, multiple storylines, friendship, and the past colliding with the present. The narrative centers on Stanley Yelnats, a boy falsely accused of a crime and sent to a correctional facility where he and the other boys must dig holes in the desert. This list of suspenseful books similar to Holes in theme or character study will thrill any reader.
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LIONS & LIARS by Kate Beasley
When Frederick Frederickson (the name says it all), 10-year-old misfit, accidentally sets himself adrift down the river, he ends up marooned at Camp Omigoshee, a disciplinary camp for boys. The counselors mistake him for one of the campers and Frederick wonders if this is his chance to reinvent himself. The others campers are just as quirky as Frederick, and together they forge a rather strange, but ultimately honest friendship, as true personalities are revealed. I really liked this book, and especially how Frederick learns to see power and privilege in a new light. Ages 8 and up.
SCAR ISLAND by Dan Gemeinhart
Scar Island will remind readers of Lord of the Flies, only with a less disturbing outcome. When a freak (and I mean freak!) accident leaves all the adults of Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys dead, the boys look forward to finally getting away from the wretched place of misery. But a few of the boys decide they would prefer a few days alone on the island before coming under the thumb of adults again. As you can imagine, things go awry in the power vacuum, and secrets previously kept hidden are revealed. It is a very compelling read and your child will have a hard time putting it down. Ages 10 and up.
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BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA by Lauren Wolk
I am a big fan of Wolk, and the complexity of her writing will appeal to readers who want more books like Holes. Crow lives on a tiny island off Cape Cod. She arrived there as a baby under mysterious circumstances and now lives with her adoptive father, Osh. The local residents are frightened of Crow for unknown reasons; they refuse to even let her attend school. Crow starts to search for answers about her past, and Wolk's narration drops clues for Crow that slowly reveal answers as well as secrets. Ages 10 and up.
NORTHWIND by Gary Paulsen
Paulsen's final survival story is set in an unspecified northern location in an unspecified historical period, but the setting is evocative of Norway in a pre-modern age. When a deadly illness sweeps through a ship crew's camp, 12-year-old Leif leaves in a canoe with a few supplies. Instructed to voyage northward by one of the elders, he does so. As he travels, he learns self-reliance and revels in the solitude and natural world. Paulsen's beautiful prose sets the reader on a journey of struggle and triumph. Glorious. Ages 9 and up.
IF YOU FIND THIS by Matthew Baker
Eleven-year-old science, math and music genius, Nicholas, already has a complicated life when his senile grandfather arrives on the scene. His grandfather talks about a hidden treasure and Nicholas hopes that finding the treasure will help save his house. Teaming up with a pair of fellow misfits from school, his grandfather and his friend's grandfather, the group goes to find the stash. There is great stuff in this book like smugglers' tunnels, seances, red herrings, an exciting chase and more. Readers who want something to read after Holes will be on the edge of their seats. Ages 9 and up.
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THE USUAL SUSPECTS by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus' tale of false accusation and the tragic way Black boys are unjustly blamed is an important read. Thelonious, the 7th-grade narrator, and his friend, Nehemiah, are the pranksters of their class. When a gun is found near the school, the administration is quick to suspect the kids in the Special Education classroom, where Thelonious learns. Feeling the sting of a false accusation, Thelonious and Nehemiah set out to determine the origin of the gun. Thelonious' insightful narration about the way he and his friends are treated by schools and society is poignant and hilarious in turns. Ages 8 and up.
THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE by Leslie Connor
Connor is a skilled author and in this masterful mystery, she tells the story of Mason Buttle, a seventh grader, who wants to understand how his friend, Benny, died. Mason, who is severely dyslexic, and suffers from extreme sweating, has been relating his story through voice to text dictation to the detective on the case. However, when Mason's new friend, Calvin, goes missing, Mason is worried there is a connection with Benny's death. Connor's narration flows as she brings the pieces of the puzzle together and the community finally gets the full story of what happened to Benny, Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Middle Grade books about Incarceration
WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae Keller
This may seem like an unusual choice for a list of books like Holes, but I believe it will entice any reader to keep turning those pages! Lily, her brother, and mother move in with her Korean grandmother. Halmoni (her grandmother) used to tell her bedtime stories based on Korean folklore and now Lily is seeing a magical tiger like the one her grandmother told her about. Halmoni tells Lily that the tiger wants something that she once stole, stories as stars, which she put in jars. Halmoni is in poor health and Lily contemplates making a bargain with the tiger so her grandmother can heal. Marvelous and magical. Ages 9 and up.
ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This masterful novel is told in several parts that cross historical and cultural boundaries. A single harmonica is thread that binds three narratives about children in trouble. Friedrich dreams of being a conductor, but lives in Hitler's Germany. Mike Flannery is an orphan in Depression Era Pennsylvania and Ivy Lopez's family works as migrant laborers. Music is such an integral part of the story and so I also recommend the audiobook format which is absolutely stellar. Ages 9 and up.
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
Like Holes, Stead's book is a Newbery Medal winner. It's also a super cool book with an amazing "Wow!" ending. After an incident in which her best friend stops speaking to her, Miranda starts getting mysterious letters asking for her help. Miranda tries to interpret the letters and discusses time travel with another boy, Marcus. Part mystery, part sci-fi, part coming of age novel, this book is not to be missed. Ages 9 and up.
SAVING LUCAS BIGGS by Marisa de los Santo and David Teague
This story is historical fiction mixed in with a bit of magic. Margaret's family has a secret: they can time travel. Margaret has made a promise never to use this power, but when her father is wrongly sent to jail she breaks her promise. Margaret goes back to 1938 when the local mining corporation was exploiting the workers and a union movement is gaining steam. She hopes to change the events which led to the young Lucas Biggs to grow up into the heartless Judge Biggs who sentenced her father to death. Ages 9 and up.
MORE: Time Travel Books
THIS IS JUST A TEST by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
I loved this book! It's the early 1980s (does it alarm you, too, that the 80s are now considered "historical fiction"?) and David is prepping for his bar mitzvah. His two grandmothers, one Jewish and one Chinese, are not making things easy for him with their constant bickering over whether David's Jewish or Chinese heritage should take precedence. On top of that, David and his friend are secretly building a fallout shelter, inspired by the movie, The Day After. Kids will love the humor, David's character, and the 1980s setting adds an interesting layer without becoming too remote for a contemporary audience. Ages 9 and up.
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