Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hanukkah Book Review: The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

The end of Hanukkah is fast approaching, so I wanted to get in a review of what was the first book that I read since my son started his mock Newbery book club that I thought could be a contender for the 2011 Newbery award.  That book is The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, who won the Newbery award in 1999 for Holes (although his previous win might make him a less likely candidate, since only five authors have ever won the award twice.)

This book, which is geared to a slightly older reader than the last two books, is about a teenager (rather than a middle schooler) who is roped by his family into serving as the eyes and "cardturner" for his blind, ailing, bridge game-loving great uncle--who also happens to be extremely rich.  Having just lost his sight from diabetes, which prohibits Lester Trapp from playing bridge,  his lifelong passion, the old man is forced to rely on his clearly-inadequate nephew,  Alton Richards, who has no knowledge and no interest in the game.  However, as time passes, Alton learns more and more from his uncle--both about bridge and about life.  It is a wonderful story of intergenerational dynamics, family secrets, relative rivalry, second chances, and grabbing the gusto out of life, no matter how long or how short you expect it to last.

This book also stand out, however, because it is Sachar's attempt to tempt a new generation away from their video games and into learning an "old fashioned" game like bridge.  He intersperses the story with pages explaining concepts in the game, or otherwise conveying his love for it.  Understanding bridge isn't essential to understanding the plot, but it helps to at least read his explanation pages to get some of the nuance of the action during the bridge games (of which there are many).  Sachar does a great job of capturing the mystique of bridge--almost as a symbol of a more elegant, more sophisticated era--in a way that intrigues, rather than repels, the Millennial Generation of today's tweens and teens (which I think is quite a feat, regardless of the story).

In fact, my son learned some bridge this year and has quite enjoyed it.  So maybe Sachar's goal of regenerating interest in a fading card game is not as quixotic at it might seem when you just hear about it.  Try the book--you might get hooked too.

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