The cover. I don't really get it. Alton doesn't have a significant moment at the train station (or spend any time there, from what I can remember). He doesn't fall asleep on benches reading, or even fall asleep reading. So, it seems to me that the Delacorte art department decided to forgo the whole playing card motif and just use a completely random stockphoto. AWESOME!
ANYWAY, the book.
Alton Richards has just finished his junior year of high school. His girlfriend has dumped him and started dating his best friend. He has no job. (And no money.) His car just... stops working sometimes. And then he takes this phone call from his great-uncle, who is elderly, blind, and very, very rich:
"Do you know the difference detween a king and a jack?" asked a gruff voice that did not belong to Mrs. Mahoney.
"Uh, yes, sir," I said.
My mother's eyes widened when she realized to whom I was talking. "Tell him he's your favorite uncle," she urged.
"Do you know how to play bridge?" asked my uncle.
I didn't, but thought that maybe I could fake it.
"Tell him you love him," said my mother.
"No," I said to my uncle (and to my mother).
"Good!" barked my uncle. "It's better that way!"
So begins Alton's summer of being Lester Trapp's eyes at the bridge table. Alton tries to keep his mind as empty as Trapp believes it to be, but it isn't long before he's fascinated by the game. And then, it isn't long before he's fascinated by Tori Castaneda, a girl who -- according to his mother -- belongs to a family that is not only certifiably crazy, but out to inherit Lester Trapp's fortune.
Bridge. It's a word that fills me with fascination and antici...pation¹, with whimsy and delight. It makes me think of nail-biting tension, of fierce competition and of dramatic... drama.
Okay, not really. Before reading The Cardturner, I knew nothing about bridge, other than that there was bidding involved and that that sort of intimidated me. Oh, and I knew that Roald Dahl story, too.
After reading The Cardturner, well, I still don't know much about bridge, but I do know that I'd like to learn how to play it. Which, I suspect, would make Louis Sachar happy.
I won't lie. There's quite a lot of talk about bridge in this book. Not surprising, maybe, given the storyline, but it could certainly be offputting to some readers. But this is Louis Sachar, and he found a way around the really intense bridge talk. Every time things are about to get really bridge-y, Alton marks the passage with a drawing of a whale:
This past year I had to read Moby-Dick in my Language Arts / English class. It seemed like a pretty good adventure story about a monster killer whale, but just when I started to get into it, the author, Herman Melville, stopped the story and went on page after page describing every tiny detail of a whaling ship. I zoned out. I never finished the book and had to bluff my way through the test.
Reading those passages is optional -- so you can read this book as a straight-up coming-of-age story, a story about the slowly-growing friendship, trust and respect that develops between Alton and Trapp, Alton's burdgeoning romance and the mystery of Trapp's past OR you can read this book as all of that AND stick your toe in the bridge water. It's up to you.
I opted to read the bridge stuff. (Minus the Appendix, which was way too much of a headspin for me.) And while it's true that it isn't necessary to read it to understand the basics of Alton's story, it does allow the reader to more fully experience Alton's summer.
It's an entertaining, engrossing read, but it isn't Alton's coming-of-age or Trapp's tragedy or their relationship or even Alton and Toni at the center of The Cardturner. No matter how many whales Louis Sachar chose to include, the heart and soul of this book is in the card game, rather than in the characters.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.
Crossposted at Guys Lit Wire.