In my on-going training as a writer, I took the day to read a young-adult book by Louis Sachar. He is the person who wrote a wonderful middle-grade novel called Holes, a Newbery winner, that was quite popular a few years ago. I read and enjoyed it greatly, so much so I bought several copies and kept them in my classroom for my students. I know it was a good book because my copies kept disappearing and had to be replaced!
His new book, The Cardturner, is delightful – an old-fashioned term that might put off young people, but somehow I think it’s just the right word for this book. Like Holes, The Cardturner has parallel stories, generations apart. In The Cardturner, the stories weave together to quietly deliver a pretty powerful message about real love, the kind that grows out of mutual respect and friendship.
Alton Richards is facing a lousy summer. His girlfriend dumped him for his best friend, he has no job, his father has been laid off, and now his mother tells him he has to spend his days driving his old, blind (but very rich, his mother reminds him) uncle, Lester Trapp, to bridge tournaments and turn his cards for him. Someone else has been doing that, and Alton’s mother thinks that person, a distant step-relative named Toni (and she’s crazy!, Alton’s mother says), is after the money. Alton has no idea what cardturning means and has never played bridge. He only knows it’s a card game that was popular back in the day. Bor-ing! His uncle is not only old and blind (and don’t forget rich, Alton’s mother would say), but demanding and not particularly pleasant. At least, that’s the way it seems at first.
Alton’s uncle seems pleased Alton knows nothing about bridge. He wants someone who will do just as he’s told and not think for himself. But Alton can’t help himself. He pays attention and begins to learn the game. He practices with his little sister Leslie, a very mellow, intelligent eleven-year-old. He also starts hearing some pretty interesting stories about the good old days around the bridge table. This is where the parallel story comes in. It’s all about the love of the game and the communication and trust between partners.
One day, the infamous Toni shows up as Trapp’s partner. She’s actually pretty good at the game and – BONUS – she’s beautiful and the same age as Alton. As the two stories unwind, Sachar builds a bridge between the two generations, and Alton and Toni see the strength and beauty of the friendship Trapp and Toni’s grandmother had as partners from many years ago. We see the parallel lives of the two sets of bridge partners – Trapp and Toni’s grandmother and Alton and Toni – and learn some things about friendship and trust and bridge.
Sachar weaves bridge lessons throughout the book and tricks the reader into learning about the game by A) giving them a way to skip those sections and B) making the sections too fascinating to skip. My only complaint is Sachar depreciates one of the great books in American literature and one of my personal favorites – Moby Dick. He uses a graphic of a whale to signal the “boring parts” that can be skipped, like the “boring whaling chapters” in Moby Dick. Maybe this is another trick. Maybe Sachar is planning on tricking young readers into reading Moby Dick all the way through. When they realize there were no boring parts in Sachar’s book, maybe they will think there are no boring parts in Moby Dick. At least I hope that’s what he had in mind.
If you’re looking for a fun, quick read, pick up a copy of The Cardturner. I recommend it. I’m hoping to see a resurgence in bridge playing after plenty of young readers discover the game through this well-crafted book.