The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Young Adult, 352 pages
The Cardturner first hit my radar at ALA. I received a review copy of the first couple chapters and I found the cover intriguing as well as the first couple chapter titles. Finding the book in my local library on audiobook was a recent happy find. Every other Saturday I drive an hour one way to grad class. Audiobooks help make the time more enjoyable.
When I first put in The Cardturner, I have to admit I had a healthy dose of skeptism. I have to admit that if I’d had another audiobook or wasn’t starting an hour drive at 7 am on a Saturday morning, I might have turned it off. That would have been a mistake! What led to my initial reaction? First, the author narrates the book, and I wasn’t too sure at first about Louis Sachar’s voice being the right choice for audio. I really like his other books though, so I decided to try to get over it.
Second, The book starts with an author’s note, while very witty, also made me feel skeptical about the book. Did I really want to read a book about the card game Bridge? I’ve never played it. I don’t know anything about it. I couldn’t imagine there was enough to fill a book about that would hold my attention.
Good thing for me, there was no turning back.
The Cardturner is a great story of Alton Richards, a teenager who doesn’t have too much going for him. His parents don’t seem to have very many positive interactions with him, but despite this, he does not turn into “angry teen” or “misunderstood teen”. This was a nice change of pace in a contemporary young adult book.
In an attempt to procure some of his wealthy uncle’s money for the family, Alton’s mother volunteers him to be his uncle’s cardturner for a card game. Uncle Lester is gruff, terse, wealthy, and blind. She doesn’t bother to mention that the card turning is not just for a single game, but multiple times a week. For the whole summer.
Through Alton’s cardturning for his Uncle Lester, the reader learns about the card game Bridge, just as Alton does: one card at a time. Much to Alton’s initial disbelief, his uncle Lester can play the game as well as he did before he became blind just by Alton reading the hand he is dealt to him at the beginning and then playing the cards instructed to him.
I have to admit that I became pretty intrigued by the idea of Bridge as a pairs game. Why don’t people play more cards? Do I know anyone who plays Bridge? How does one go about learning to play? Could I have friends over to play Bridge or some other card game and have it be fun for all? Hmmm….
In addition to the unfolding relationship between Alton and his uncle Lester, I also really enjoyed Alton’s relationship with his younger sister. Once again, it was refreshing to have such a positive brother-sister relationship portrayed without it being any big deal. Eleven year old sister, sixteen year old brother. Not usually a relationship that includes helping each other, playing cards together, and an unspoken alliance to survive their dysfunctional parents.
Alton’s friend Cliff and new friend Tony, also are realistic relationships that Sachar does a wonderful job of developing.
I kept being reminded of Richard Peck’s Grandma Dowdel. I even typed Peck’s name a few times in place of Sachar’s and had to watch myself for that oversight. The age difference between characters, the back story that is revealed about uncle Lester, all is reminisent of the storytelling variety found in A Long Way from Chicago.
I think this book might make a fun read aloud, with time spent actually trying out some of the card hands Alton learns. I also think it would be big fun to make the foghorn sound whenever the reader got the whale symbol in the book, indicating the reader is coming to a part that might be difficult to understand, as it is mostly “bridge jibberish” (Alton’s words) explained in detail. A nice summary box comes right after, allowing the reader to choose to skip the “jibberish” if it’s not to their liking and still be able to understand the story.
Overall a great contemporary young adult story that I highly recommend.