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The Cardturner    by Louis Sachar order for
by Louis Sachar
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Doubleday Canada, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having played bridge fanatically as a grad student, and signed up my two sons to make a family foursome when they were old enough, I was delighted to find the game at the core of Louis Sachar's new novel, The Cardturner. His love for it shines through the story and through the samples of strategic play scattered throughout.

All his life, seventeen-year-old Alton Richard's parents have urged him to declare that 'uncle Lester was my favorite uncle.' Lester, actually Alton's great-uncle, is 'rich enough that he never had to be nice to anyone' and never visits. He's only close to 'the crazy Castanedas', offspring of his ex-wife's sister. Toni Castaneda is about Alton's age but they only met once, as children. Alton's best friend Cliff is dating his ex-girlfriend, Katie, who told him he had 'intuitive eyes' before she dumped him.

After Lester becomes very ill and complications from his diabetes make him blind, he asks Alton to drive him to bridge games and be his cardturner (Toni did this until she questioned one of Lester's moves). Through this casual summer job, Alton gradually learns a great deal about bridge, and about his uncle's life - the latter very different from the family myths with which he grew up. He also gets to know Toni, who teaches him more about the game. They play in a foursome with Alton's sister Leslie and with Cliff.

Alton's feelings for Toni grow stronger, despite Cliff's interest in her and her reputed craziness. Is she schizophrenic or does she really hear her dead grandmother? Alton is sure she's simply reacting to her subconscious mind until he has a similar experience - after which, he and Toni decide to make a play for the national bridge championship as a fitting tribute to individuals they care about who have suffered greatly.

I highly recommend Louis Sachar's The Cardturner to you, both as a tribute to the game of bridge (which you really should try if you haven't yet) and as an excellent and empathetic coming of age story. Alton learns to value his own understanding of the world and stop being manipulated by others. He sagely concludes, 'Life will deal me many different hands, some good, some bad (maybe they've already been dealt), but from here on in, I'll be turning my own cards.'

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