The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010
When Alton's ageing, blind uncle asks him to attend bridge games with him, he agrees. After all, it's better than a crappy summer job in the local shopping mall, and Alton's mother thinks it might secure their way to a good inheritance sometime in the future. But, like all apparently casual choices in any of Louis Sachar's wonderful books, this choice soon turns out to be a lot more complex than Alton could ever have imagined. As his relationship with his uncle develops, and he meets the very attractive Toni, deeply buried secrets are uncovered and a romance that spans decades is finally brought to a conclusion. Alton's mother is in for a surprise!
(courtesy of Goodreads)
I love The Cardturner simply because it is like no other YA book out there. It manages to tell a great story, spur thoughts about philosophy and religion, and teach me the basics of bridge. Few storytellers are capable of doing this well, but Louis Sachar certainly is one of those.
Alton is a wonderful character. He is easy-going, self-deprecating, and sarcastic, but his most outstanding characteristic is kindness. He goes along with his money-grubbing mother's demands to spend time with his uncle, because he feels an obligation to her and doesn't want to deal with defying her. He stays loyal to his girlfriend-stealing best friend, because Cliff is a nice guy and Alton can't bring himself to admit how upset he is. He is patient, open-minded, and willing to learn from his uncle Trapp, who is (on the surface) a crusty, cranky old man.
The Cardturner manages to educate the reader about bridge while still keeping a funny, entertaining voice. Sachar made a genius decision to identify the detailed instructions with a whale sign (I love the Moby Dick reference since I can't stand Melville), giving the reader the option to skip through the teaching material. But education is spread throughout the book, not just about bridge. I loved Trapp's thoughts about ideas: "'Our bodies are not alive,' said Trapp. 'The only living entities are ideas.'" His comments and Alton's opinions about them really made me think - something that not many YA books do.
The story is told in one of the "talk to the reader" voices. (e.g. "Not that I'm complaining. It was just a thought that crossed my mind, so I reported it to you.") I generally hate these type of books. I'd rather hear the story than chat with the main character, but Alton's little quips are so funny that, for the most part, I didn't mind his voice.
I was madly in love with The Cardturner for the first half of the book. It was one of the best books I'd read in a long time. As the book continued, though, I thought the bridge details bogged the story down a little, and I wasn't as thrilled with some of the plot arcs. I still think it was a fabulous book throughout, but it fell from a 5 to a 4.5.
Rating: 4.5 / 5