The Cardturner: A Review

The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar.
Get ready for some gushing.

I was first introduced to Sachar through Holes, like the majority of the population, though it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon. (It was all the cover's fault; I thought it was a fart-joke-filled, boy, sci-fi book - like Captain Underpants or something. So cool, unique covers can work both ways.) I remember finishing Holes and thinking, "Wow, that was...unique." Juvenile delinquency meets historical fiction meets paranormal? New. Creative. Never-been-seen-before. Random, but...cool. It made sense. I liked it and wished more stories were that one-of-a-kind. Watched the movie (a good adaption of a book, for once) with my family, and they were of the same opinion.

Fast forward a couple of years or more. I graduated to the Young Adult section of the library and picked up a book called Small Steps. "By the author of Holes," it said. So I picked it up. Criminal behavior meets pop stars meets polio? Seriously? Can that be pulled off? Uh, yes...For The Win it can. That was when I decided that Sachar was kinda sorta genius. (What I remember most about reading that book was the introduction, in which he wrote that he preferred to write alone and let no one read his work - or even know what it was about - until he was finished. I related to that.)

Fast forward a couple more years to 2010, when I pulled The Cardturner from the library shelf and when I started reading. First, I read the introduction, which is but one page - albeit, a very humorous page. It ends like this:
"My publisher, my editor, my wife, and my agent all said I was crazy. 'No one's going to want to read a book about bridge!' they told me on more than one occasion. Still, I really love the game..." - Louis Sachar, introduction of The Cardturner
I turned the page and began reading. I was engrossed in the story so quickly that I was a couple of pages in before I remembered that the introduction had been written by the same guy who was narrating this first-person story. His voice is that good; without blinking an eye, I believed the book was written by the character. Really. The book begins like this:
"Ever since I was a little kid, I've had it drilled into me that my uncle Lester was my favorite uncle. My mother would thrust the phone at me and say, 'Uncle Lester wants to talk to you,' her voice infused with the same forced enthusiasm she used to describe the deliciousness of canned peas. 'Tell him you love him.'"
Like I said, I believed the narrator at once. I felt like I knew so much about him, about his mother, about his uncle Lester...about his affinity for canned peas. I completely forgot that I was reading a fictional book by an author.

The Cardturner is a whirlwind of bridge (the card game), some romance (just enough), philosophy (well-presented and not in-your-face), a backstory that defies all rules and fits like a glove, a twist I NEVER saw coming, and a surprising climax that I wouldn't have liked in any other book but that I believed and actually enjoyed in The Cardturner. Well done, Louis Sachar!!! I can think of no other author that would have been able to mix the combination of subjects in The Cardturner into something not only palatable, but also delicious. Cheers all around!!!

The dialogue was, well, to say 'believable' seems too cliche. But it was. Every scene that took place in a bridge setting was absolutely real. Just, real. The whole thing. All of the characters, from normal-teenage-boy Alton, to homeschooled Toni, to charmer Cliff, to Alton's scheming mother...were real. I feel like I know them. Some of them I might. Again, many, many hurrah's in Sachar's honor!

I will make one note about The Cardturner if you're planning on reading: You have to pay attention. Sachar has done an insanely good job at presenting the game of bridge in an understandable way, but it requires some focus on your part. The more you focus, the better you'll understand the story. It's a little tricky at first. It was tricky for me, and I play whist (which turns out to be a simplified version of bridge). But it's worth it, and you'll be glad you took the time to read the 'Moby Dick' pages. I am. Also, the backstory is really complicated compared to most YA books. So pay attention to that, too. This isn't a book you should expect to skim. And, in all honesty, it's better than a skimming read. It's worth more than a skim. Read the whole thing.

There are some elements of The Cardturner that I wish I could dwell on in more depth - the characters, the dialogue, the twist and how big twists like that can shock readers, the backstory and how writers can deal with that - but I've already made this post too long indeed.

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