Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Sachar, Louis. The Cardturner. Delacorte Press, 2010.

I'm sure if I'd been keeping up on my blog reading, the mystery of this cover photo would have been explained to me. Does it have ANYthing to do with the story at all? Not that I can figure out.

Alton's parents force him to take a summer job driving his old, blind, and very rich great-uncle Lester to and from bridge games and being his "cardturner" - as Lester is blind, Alton tells Lester what cards he has and Lester tells Alton what to play. He learns to like bridge, his irascible uncle, AND young Toni, Lester's protegee. Thanks to what can only be called the strength of Lester's personality, even death cannot stop him from winning the bridge tournament of his dreams.

Verdict: Can bridge be as thrilling and involving to read about as its devotees say it is to play? Yes and no. I know nothing about bridge, and I quickly became fascinated by the quirks and complexities of the game, its players, and its culture. However, as a non-player, I couldn't follow many of the plays described in such loving detail, try though I might. I just didn't have a good enough grasp of the game. Luckily, Sachar provides a handy symbol denoting when things are about to get technical (a whale, symbolizing the meticulously described whaling ship passages in Moby Dick). It's not that I skipped these passages; in fact, I tried all the harder to concentrate on them. But I fear I could not fully appreciate them. Will your average teen? I'm guessing not.

Will it matter? Probably not. Like the slightly younger teenage boy in Perkins' As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, Alton is a likable guy whose keen powers of observation belie the rather blank exterior he presents to the world. He seems to like to appear clueless - and in fact he IS clueless about some things, or at least willfully naive. Why can't he see what a jerk his best friend is? At least Alton does understand when he himself has been a jerk - and he is refreshingly respectful of his cool little sis.

Because this is a book about bridge, there are lots of grown-ups in it, most of them quite old. There aren't too many fully realized, richly portrayed old folks in YA literature, so Lester, his bridge partner Gloria, and all his bridge buddies are a breath of fresh air. Even if only sketched briefly, these folks are authentic and a pleasure to meet.

The only exception to these excellent portrayals are those of Alton's mom and dad. We are expected to believe that two shallow, spendthrifty, obnoxious, money-grubbing parents are responsible for raising two fine kids like Alton and his sister. It just doesn't make sense and feels like something out of a bad "funny" teen movie.

I'm very curious to find out whether this book finds an audience with teenagers. Have any of you had any direct feedback from someone under, say, age 20 who has actually read The Cardturner?

Recommended for ages 14 and up, whether you skip whales or not.

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