The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.
The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.
I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.
Genre: Realistic, Young Adult
I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”
I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”
Toni Castaneda must have been out of her mind.