Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

From the moment he could talk, Alton's mom made him complicit in her game to suck up to a rich uncle for a possible inheritance. "Tell Uncle Lester you love him," she'd say. "Tell Uncle Lester he's your favorite uncle!" She'd urge. Alton complied, but was always aware how empty these things were and how little his uncle cared that he said them.

Years later and Uncle Lester has gone blind, a symptom of his worsening diabetes. Alton is now in high school and his mother has just signed him up to be the cardturner for his uncle so that he can continue playing competitive bridge. Alton is seduced by this complicated card game. He starts to practice on his own, he starts to practice with Toni Uncle Lester's "sort of" niece. He discovers that Uncle Lester really is his favorite uncle, for reasons that have nothing to do with how rich he is.

I have to say, I really loved this story. What I could have done without was all the bridge strategy talk. Luckily I am the type of reader that can just skim through all the business and get to the fun. Even luckier is the fact that Sachar realized that all the bridge talk might make reader's eyes glaze over and so implemented a system where he put a whale (ala Moby Dick - you'll understand when you read the book) at the beginning of those sections so that you could just skip those parts. He definitely got me interested in bridge, but I think it might be one of those things that is easier to learn as you play. Like Crib. A favorite game in my household growing up. Although crib is nowhere near as complicated as bridge.

Alton is a really sweet character and is sort of shy and retiring. He's got a problem with a best friend that goes after his girlfriends. He is a really good brother to his younger sister Leslie who's a sparky little chick, I liked her a lot. He's also been fed crazy amounts of misinformation about his Uncle Lester from his parents, who I did not like at all. In fact, I would go so far to say that I found them sickening and distasteful. They are money grubbers of the worst kind and when they finally do get an inheritance (*skip this part if you don't want spoilers*) they are completely ungrateful. Oh no, a free start where all their debt is paid off and college education for both of their children paid for no matter where or how expensive was not good enough for them. They complained that if they had known they would have bought more things on credit so that they could have more for free. I felt rage. I did! I thought that was about the most thoughtful bequest ever. Who wouldn't be grateful that they no longer had any debt? The mother also viciously maligned Toni and her family. Maybe she didn't know the real circumstances, but she certainly made no effort to find out. Ugh. (*end of spoilers*)

It'll be interesting to see how teens react to this story. I know lots will pick it up based on their love of Holes. I think the story is very strong, although it does vear off a little strangely at the end. I hope they stick with it. The ending is rewarding and sweet and Alton is a lovely character to spend some hours with.


Madigan McGillicuddy said...

I must read this!
I was at a library event -- I think about 2 years ago, where Louis Sachar was a speaker and he was telling us about writing this book.

Somebody had asked him what he'd been working on lately as he hadn't published anything in a while.
He told us all about it, and about his own love for the game of bridge. Then he confessed that the book was probably "unpublishable" since -- why on earth would teens want to read a book about bridge?? And his agent was begging him to get working on another project. So, he kind of laughed and apologized to the audience and explained that it might be a while before he published something again.

So, that's exciting, that he finally did get it published. What a brilliant idea -- to make the bridge-heavy portions "skippable" if you want to get right to the story.

Patti said...

Oh that is so funny! His forward said something similar to that. I have to say that I found all the bridge stuff incomprehensible, but the story was really strong. I hope you enjoy it!