How are we supposed to be partners? He can t see the cards and I don t know the rules
The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. Read more...
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How are we supposed to be partners? He can t see the cards and I don t know the rules
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.
Through Alton s wry observations, Louis Sachar explores the disparity between what you know and what you think you know. With his incomparable flair and inventiveness, he examines the elusive differences between perception and reality and inspires readers to think and think again."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 63.
- Review Date: 2010-04-05
- Reviewer: Staff
“I realize that reading about a bridge game isn't exactly thrilling,” 17-year-old narrator Alton tells readers early on. Luckily, this funny and thoughtful novel is as much about building bridges—between generations and maybe even between life and death—as it is about playing cards. Alton gets roped into serving as a card turner for his great-uncle, Lester Trapp, a bridge whiz who recently lost his eyesight (Alton's job is to read Trapp's cards for him). Though Alton barely knows Trapp, his opportunistic mother won't miss a chance for Alton to get in good with his “favorite uncle,” who's wealthy and in poor health. To Alton's surprise, he becomes enamored of the game and begins to bond with his crusty uncle—who shares insight into synchronicity and the connection between reality and perception. With dry, understated humor, Alton makes the intricacies of bridge accessible, while his relationships with and observations about family members and friends (including an ex-girlfriend, a manipulative best friend, and especially Trapp's former card turner) form a portrait of a reflective teenager whose life is infinitely enriched by connections he never expected to make. Ages 12–up. (May)
A teen hit from Sachar is in the cards
In his Newbery Medal-winning novel Holes, Louis Sachar showed readers that he can turn a weird concept—digging holes in the desert—into a complex page-turner. Sachar’s latest novel is no different. Playing bridge? (Yes, the card game—the one octogenerians play.) With a blind great-uncle? It doesn’t sound like the recipe for a YA hit, but Sachar pulls it off in The Cardturner, also touching on themes that young people will relate to, like teen love and embarrassing parents.
The story follows Alton Richards in the summer before his senior year in high school. He works as the cardturner for his blind Uncle Lester—reading him the cards as they’re dealt during highly competitive bridge games—and along the way, he becomes fascinated with the game himself. Alton’s gold-digging parents set up the job so that the family might finagle their way into Lester’s will. There’s a mystery involved, too, as Alton figures out the story behind the disappearance of Lester’s perfect bridge partner of lore.
If teens think that bridge strategy and the subculture of bridge tournaments isn’t interesting, they are in for a surprise: the story reads like a suspense novel as the national bridge tournament approaches. But since the subject does seem a bit odd for a teen novel, BookPage asked Sachar himself—a devoted bridge player—to elaborate on his choice of subject.
Why did you think bridge would be interesting to young people?
Most people have the wrong impression about bridge, if they have any impression at all. Few young people have ever heard of bridge, and for those who have, they probably think of it as something old and fuddy-duddy. I hoped to present it as something new and exciting. It is highly competitive and full of limitless possibilities. But probably the best part of bridge, unlike chess, is that it is a partnership game. It’s you and your partner against the world. It’s also something a boy and girl can do together, like Toni and Alton in the book.
Your characters talk about bridge getting in “the blood.” When did bridge get in your blood? Why do you love the game?
I learned the game from my parents when I was a kid, and even then I was fascinated by it, but nobody I knew played. Then in 1994 when I was 40 years old, a sister of a friend invited me to play at a bridge club with her. We started out playing once a week, but I soon got hooked, and was playing two, three or even four times a week.
In the book, a player notes that “the time you quit learning is the time to quit playing.” Do you believe this is true?
Yes, I'm still learning to play bridge and to write. That's why I enjoy both. Neither gets old to me.
A point of pride for characters in The Cardturner is the accumulation of masterpoints. How many masterpoints do you have?
I currently have over 2,400 masterpoints. However I have less than ten platinum points, which are earned at major national events. My goal is to play in more of those events and to do well at them.
If you could choose three people to sit at your fantasy bridge table, who would they be?
You have to understand, as Syd Fox, my imaginary bridge expert explains in the appendix to The Cardturner, “it's all about the cards.” So while my fantasy dinner companions might include Bob Dylan, Barack Obama and Margaret Atwood, if they aren’t serious bridge players I don’t want them at my table. Instead I would choose people who most people have never heard of, but who are very famous in the bridge world. I would want to be partners with Eddie Kantar, a great bridge writer who is also very funny, and we’d play against the partnership of Eric Rodwell and Jeff Meckstroth, who are considered to be the best bridge playing duo in the world.
Do you think most teens have a “philosophical bent,” like Alton?
Yes, especially those who like to read. I know I did when I was a teenager. My best friend and I would stay up all night discussing the mysteries of the universe.
Lester and Alton discuss a passage from Cannery Row, in which John Steinbeck notes how strange it is that the “traits we detest”—greed, egotism, self-interest—lead to success. Does the passage apply to Alton’s greedy parents, who want Lester’s money?
It was at a time in [Lester] Trapp’s life (in his early 20s) when he was trying to figure out what to do with his life. What kind of career should he set for himself? Can he be successful, without losing himself in the process? I think it is a quote that would have appealed to him, and would also appeal to young adult readers who will soon face that same dilemma. John Steinbeck is also one of my favorite authors, and one who is very accessible to young readers.
As a first-person narrator, Alton repeatedly makes reference to “this book” that he’s writing—the same book we’re reading. Why did you write from this point of view?
Going back to the first question, I knew my readers might be put-off by bridge, and find it confusing. I thought it would be helpful to have a narrator who was equally confused and uninterested by it, at least in the beginning.
Teens spend a lot of time in front of the computer, or watching TV, or texting. Do you agree with Lester that video games are just “little pixels of light”?
I worry about how much time kids spend plugged into computers, telephones and the like. I think it’s unhealthy for the individual, and also for the social fabric of our communities.
The subtitle of the book is “A novel about a king, a queen, and a joker.” Who is who—is Lester the king, Alton the joker and Toni—Alton’s bridge partner—the queen?
Alton is definitely the joker. I would say that [Lester] Trapp is the king and Annabel [Lester’s old partner] is the queen. Toni is the princess, but there's no card for that.