The novel uses an omniscient, third-person narrator, who spends a lot of time in Stanley's mind but necessarily is omniscient in the sense that he can flip back and forward through time, space, and different characters' consciousnesses. Laura Nicosia writes that this "third person limited omniscient narrative voice" allows the reader to know "all that the protagonist and focal lens, Stanley, knows" - in other words, we have almost unlimited access to what Stanley feels and experiences. Nicosia calls this an "authorial privileging of the reader through the embedded and layered use of fairy and folk tales" which are "counterpoint narratives" in the novel. Parts of this novel display fairly gritty realism.
Stanley is the protagonist of this story, a shy, unpopular high school student. He is described early on as soft and pudgy, and a natural target for bullies at his Texas high school, notably a nasty boy named Derrick Dunne. At Camp Green Lake he finds it much easier to fit in, and within a couple days of arriving already has a nickname and a few friends. The physical labor at the camp - the endless digging of huge holes in the desert - is exhausting for him at first, but he has the mental resilience to push through, and eventually becomes physically stronger as well.
The author, Jack Gantos, always wanted to be a writer and this book gives us a chance to follow him as he took a long way around to get to his goal. When he was a young boy his father always tried to show him who was a criminal and characteristics they had. Even though his dad tried to educate him a little it looks like his mother was not present in his life and that led to his making mistakes. Gantos made the mistake of selling drugs; he sold it to get an education. While growing up, Gantos did not have a lot of parental support.