Sachar has ace up his sleeve with an unlikely page-turner

John Millen
John Millen |

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The Cardturner

By Louis Sachar

Published by Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 1 4088 0850 4

Louis Sachar is a unique youth fiction writer who can turn anything into a wise and pleasurable novel for young adult readers. His novel Holes, about, well, kids digging holes in the desert, sold more than eight million copies worldwide and won many prestigious prizes, including the National Book Award and Newbery Medal.

For his new novel, Sachar has taken another unlikely topic and turned it into an intelligent, must-read tale that fascinates, amuses and entertains teen readers for every one of its 350 pages.

Bridge, that old-fashioned card game that few people under the age of 50 play, hardly seems a likely topic for a book aimed at teenagers. Bridge is for old fogies stuck in a time warp. That's what 17-year-old Alton Richards certainly thinks before events pull him and his younger sister into a bridge-playing culture that turns him into a fanatic, dealing kings, queens and aces with the best of them.

"I realise that reading about a bridge game isn't exactly thrilling," Alton tells us at the start of The Cardturner. But in the hands of Sachar, this dry-as-sticks card game becomes something cool and compulsive. Bridge is the chess of card games, and we all know how difficult chess is to play. As Alton entertains us with how bridge changes his life, Sachar explains how the game is played, and it all seems fascinating, even to anyone who has never played a game of cards in their life.

The long summer holiday ahead looks a bit grim for Alton Richards. His parents manage to make matters even worse by lining up a job for him and giving him no choice about accepting their proposal. They offer Alton's services as driver and cardturner to Great Uncle Lester, a bridge lover who attends his club at least four times a week. Alton is hardly overjoyed at the prospect.

Great-uncle Lester is blind, sick and sometimes bad-tempered. But he is rich, and Alton's pushy mother keeps reminding her son to "be nice" to Uncle Lester while he drives him to bridge meetings, and acts as Uncle Lester's eyes during the game.

But Alton's mum is not the only person trying to worm her way into Uncle Lester's good books. She is in hot competition with his scheming housekeeper, his manipulative young nurse and the crazy Castaneda family who seem to have a mysterious hold over the old man. Alton soon becomes intrigued by Uncle Lester and the card game that is his life. And Uncle Lester himself starts to appreciate the teenager who has suddenly become his eyes.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]