Review: The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

The Cardturner Book Cover The Cardturner
Louis Sachar

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.

Review:

It pains me to have to give this book a low rating. I remember loving Louis Sachar’s books while growing up, especially the uproariously funny Wayside School series and the unexpectedly touching There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. I was delighted to see that he’d written The Cardturner as a book for young adults, and I couldn’t wait to experience his witty wordsmithing as a grownup.

Sadly, though, it turns out that The Cardturner has absolutely nothing in common with the Sachar books mentioned above. I anticipated a high-energy tale chock-full of zany characters and wacky situations; what I got was a calm, leisurely story about the game of bridge.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ninety-five percent of the “action” in this story takes place at a bridge table. There are even several sections devoted wholly to explaining the rules and techniques of bridge, with bridge diagrams included. While I appreciated Sachar’s attempts to help me and other readers understand the basics of how bridge is played, it’s an extremely complicated game. I found myself skipping sections of explanation after the first few chapters because much of it was over my head.

I suppose it’s a bit unfair of me to dismiss this book as only being about bridge. There are nice themes about family, friendship, the nastiness of gossip, and the importance of not believing everything you hear. Several scenes are sweet and poignant, and all of the characters (with the exception of Alton’s parents) are likeable and well written. Still, I was expecting a little more oomph and pizazz, and I didn’t get it.

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