Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Release date: June 6th 2011.
Paperback, 352 pages.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Jen.
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!
I remember once when I was a kid my mom was going to have her Bridge club over. I was so excited because it meant we were going to be having a party. Nothing is more fun than a party when you’re five years old! Imagine my disappointment when seven blue haired little old ladies arrived at our house and proceeded to do nothing but play cards for three hours. BORING!!!!!!! So when I realized that the plot of Louis Sachar’s book The Cardturner revolved around the game of Bridge I was a bit skeptical. Why would anyone write a book for teens about a game that is popular with senior citizens? As I pondered this question I had a revelation. Louis Sachar is the same author who wrote an entire book about kids digging holes in the desert. A book that I, and most of the world, LOVED!! Therefore if anyone could make the game of Bridge compelling it would be master storyteller Louis Sachar. By the time I was finished with The Cardturner I found myself visiting local nursing homes looking to start a Bridge club of my own.
Alton Richards’ summer isn’t going exactly as he had hoped. First, his girlfriend, Katie, dumped him for his best friend. Then his quest to find a job was sidelined by the fact that he is ultimately too lazy to actually fill out the applications. With no love life and no money Alton was doomed to spend his summer broke and alone. That is until his mother volunteers him to assist his “favorite” Uncle Lester with his Bridge games. Alton knows nothing about the game of Bridge and even less about his “favorite” uncle, except for the fact that Lester is wealthy and the entire family is hoping for a share of the fortune when Lester finally passes on. With no better prospects for the summer Alton agrees to become his blind uncle’s cardturner. Lester turns out to be an ornery old guy who has absolutely no faith in his new apprentice. As the summer wears on Alton manages to tolerate his uncle while also picking up a few pointers on the game of Bridge. Everything seems to running smoothly until a major complication arises in the form of a cute girl. Toni Castaneda is the niece of Lester’s ex-wife. Not only are the Castaneda’s crazy, they are also vying to get a piece of Uncle Lester’s substantial fortune, at least that is what Alton has been told his entire life. As Alton and Toni spend more time together, under the guise of helping Uncle Lester with his Bridge game, Alton begins to see that not everything is exactly as it seems.
At one point in the story Katie, the ex-girlfriend, calls Alton and asks what he has been doing all summer. He responds, “Just hanging out with old people and playing Bridge.” This really is the crux of the entire story: the relationship that Alton forges with his Uncle, Toni, and the other people involved in Uncle Lester’s Bridge club. These relationships are what make The Cardturner such an endearing tale. As Alton wades through all of the false information he has been fed all of his life he uncovers the reason why Uncle Lester has a “heart as cold as a brick” and why the Castaneda’s seem more important to Lester than his blood relatives.
One of my favorite parts of this plot were the flashbacks that tell the story of a young Lester and his original bridge partner, Toni’s grandmother Annabell. Annabell was a beautiful woman married to an abusive senator who refused to allow his wife to excel at anything he was not adept at, especially the game of Bridge. As Alton and Toni move up through the ranks of the Bridge world the story of Lester and Annabell has an effect on their lives they never would have expected.
Even Sachar admits in the story’s prologue that Bridge is not exactly the most exciting topic he could have chosen to write about. The game has a language all its own that only an avid player would understand. In order to help the reader make it through the heavy descriptions of the game without becoming bored to tears Sachar provides illustrations to alert the reader that the next section can be skipped as long as you read the boxed summary at the end of the passage. I admit. I skipped the illustrated portions and read only the summaries. I was pleased to find that I lost absolutely nothing as far as plot and character and that the story still flowed just as smoothly as if I had read the blow- by -blow Bridge plays. Anyone actually interested in learning the game of Bridge would be able to get an excellent education by reading Sachar’s detailed instructions. I appreciated that the author left that choice to the reader.
The only thing holding me back from giving this one five stars is that I still think it would be a hard sell to the average teenager. While I loved the character relationships, historical flashbacks, and love story woven throughout the book it did lack action. The charm of The Cardturner lies more in the characters personalities and relationships than in the things that they do. Teen readers who demand a major event within the first few pages of a book may have a difficult time giving The Cardturner a chance. This is definitely a story for a mature reader who can appreciate the care in which the author has taken in creating his characters and plot.