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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cardturner, written by Louis Sachar. Doubleday, Random House. 2010. $21.95 ages 12 and up

"Okay, I realize you didn't come all the way to Chicago to watch Toni and me play in a side game. That would be like a sports reporter who's supposed to be covering the Super Bowl going on and on about the pregame charity touch-football match between the players' wives. It was bad enough I made you sit through Syd Fox's lecture."

Things aren't going well for Alton Richards. When his mother forces him to keep company with an elderly great uncle in hopes of being remembered in his will, he is not happy. But, whatever his mother says he is expected to do for the good of family.

Uncle Lester is a bit of a curmudgeon. He is rich, he is aloof,  he is blind and he's a topnotch bridge player. Alton becomes his 'card turner' , telling his uncle the cards in his hand and playing them when he is told to do so. Another young relative offers competition. Toni Castenada is beautiful, charming and a great bridge player in her own right.

There are some mysteries surrounding family in this book about love of all kinds. Alton is looking for adventure and an escape from boredom. He finds Uncle Lester irritating at times. He is also quite in awe of his bridge playing ability and the name he has made for himself at tournaments. Alton learns a lot from the old man, who has a desire for his life to be over. He has lived long enough, and he doesn't like the 'cards he has been dealt' in terms of health and aging. The other cards, however, have been good to him, and he has much to teach others.

The long passages that help to explain the game of bridge are marked so that readers can skip them, if they choose to do so. This is Sachar's nod to Herman Melville and Moby Dick which also includes long, descriptive passages. A whale marks the long descriptions for a bridge game. Alton learns a lot about bridge, family history, friendship and romance.

I wasn't sure I would like to read a book about playing is not on my 'bucket list', but I loved this book. Louis Sachar is such an accomplished writer, creating wonderful characters who take hold of your heart and keep you wondering through the tale's ups and downs.  He uses a first person narrative to give the reader a sense of being at that card table with Alton and Uncle Lester. He mixes mystery with romance, humor and naivete to hold the reader's attention from start to finish....and he does it surreptitiously. 

Some readers will be drawn to the game and that's an added bonus, isn't it? Bravo, Louis Sachar. Who knew bridge could be so fascinating?

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