The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Publication Date: May 11, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: bridge, male narrator, family secrets
Summary: It’s sad but true when driving his blind uncle to bridge games becomes the highlight of Alton’s summer. His girlfriend left him for his best friend, and his parents this Alton’s “free time” as a way to guarantee their spot in their uncle’s will some point down the line. But who would have thought he would actually start to understand bridge… and like it? And then there’s this girl and secrets about his family… things are starting to get more interesting than anyone could have thought.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume many of you reading this aren’t accomplished bridge players or know a whole lot about bridge to begin with. If you are like me, my familiarity with bridge is limited to the hands they put in the newspaper. (Have you seen those?) I’m not even sure where I got the idea where bridge was a game that “old people played” but hey the stereotype is there and it’s not an unpopular one because well, it’s all over this book.
When I first saw The Cardturner in the bookstore, I was just interested in reading about what Louis Sachar was up to. As a kid, I was a huge fan of his Wayside School series, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, and in college again, when I read Holes. (Don’t miss that one!) Like all of those stories, The Cardturner has real heart. Even when it feels a little long and slips into long explanations about bridge. (Sachar is genius though – he begins his diatribes about bridge with a whale icon. If you aren’t all that interested in the teeny tiny details, just skip ahead to the box where there is a small summary of what Sachar is trying to get at.) It is not a book that is obsessing over the hierarchy of high school or sex or a love triangle. This feels like an old school YA book with a unique background story.
The major highlight is the narrator – Alton, a high school kid who is roped into helping his blind uncle play bridge. I don’t read many books with male narrators so this was refreshing. Alton is funny. He talks to the audience, makes it known that HE is the one writing his story down. He’s also sort of a pushover, and not exactly the big man on campus. But I liked that about him. He had feelings. Even if he wasn’t so good at expressing them. It can’t be easy for your best friend to be dating your ex-girlfriend and see he is also kind of interested in your new crush.
He also seems to be searching for some kind of acceptance from his uncle. Alton is able to pick up on bridge pretty quickly, and his uncle makes him feel like a total idiot sometimes and underestimates him completely. These are some of the funniest moments in the book when he is expressing his frustration over knowing what was going on, and pretending like he doesn’t really care.
Bridge is what brings change into Alton’s life, for sure. Throughout the book, we see him steadily learn the ins and outs of this game, establish a connection with this uncle he never really knew, and make friends with a lot of other people. I also loved the dynamic between him and his younger sister, Leslie. She was probably one of the sanest people in this book since Alton’s parents were so obnoxiously annoying and only cared about one thing – money.
This isn’t the most fast paced book. In fact, it took me a lot longer to read it than I thought it would. I wasn’t addicted to it like I normally get with others. I was reeled in more at the halfway point when I got to know the characters more and things got a little bit exciting and somewhat, suspenseful. (Yes! For real.) I even shed a tear at one point. So The Cardturner is certainly worth sticking with if you can be patient. You may even find bridge to be interesting. (Honestly, it’s still hard for me to grasp the game without actually seeing people playing it but I’m curious enough to watch some videos on YouTube.)
But Louis Sachar has a way of taking a realistic story and making it feel like a fairy tale. Not necessarily with the ending you envisioned. But there are wacky characters, a blind uncle who can impressively memorize his own cards and the hands of the other players, and a “scandalous” family history mystery. It has a little bit for everyone.