I had vaguely mixed memories about reading Sachar from my gradeschool days, but when I heard this book was about bridge--teens playing bridge, even!--I had to pick it up. I mean, I'm a bridge player, and more to the point, I'm a -young- bridge player, which is kind of a ridiculous rarity. Do you know how often I see books about people my age or younger playing bridge? Not very often, is what I'm saying.
Actually, I don't see books about people playing bridge, period, very often. I would say that's because bridge is complicated and tricky to follow if you don't know the rules, but then, so is chess, and that didn't stop Abba from making a popular rock musical about it. I think it basically comes down to the fact that chess is perceived as a game played by brilliant men--an uncool game, perhaps, but still, we have a sneaking fondness for hearing about the lives and foibles for brilliant men. Whereas bridge is a game played by old people, and more frequently old women at that. American society: not so keen on the doings of the post-menopause set.
Which may be why this book has a teenage male protagonist. Because, right, there's a book, and I'm supposed to be reviewing that.
The problem is . . . as a book, The Cardturner
was, well, "okay." It's being marketed as YA, because the protagonist is 17, but it reads like a middle-grade book. There's no nuance here, no subtlety. The good characters are good, the bad characters bad; there's no hint of redemption for the protagonist's greedy parents, no silver lining of a productive career to Senator King's abusive home character. That extends beyond the plot to the writing. On page 120 there's a completely random (and frankly rather out of character) philosophical discussion, in which a theory of ideas is introduced; on page 144 the concept of synchronicity is introduced in a similar fashion. Those two discussions--presented, in the end, as literal truth rather than theory--unsurprisingly end up being the gun on the mantle around which the book's final twist is oriented.
The main character also bluntly did not read as 17 to me. I don't think YA books _need_ sex, but if you're going to have a romance subplot--look, I remember being 17, and believe me, at that age, I was at least _thinking_ about things beyond handholding and first kisses. Aside from plot requirements that the main character drive and be able to get on an airplane by himself, he could plausibly have been cast as 13 or 14. That book, I might have enjoyed more, because my expectations would have been different.
But back to bridge. Despite all those complaints, I tore through the book in two sittings: because it is chock-full of bridge diagrams and post-mortems. More, many of them are diagrams and post-mortems of games played by beginners, so unlike in newspaper bridge columns, I'm not always stuck going ". . .how the hell did they pull that off?" (I love bridge; that doesn't mean I play it well.) I understand their mistakes--I've made the same ones--and cheer their progress. By the end, I'd picked up a few useful tips and tricks that I've read about before in bridge books but never quite made sense of. Having them set within a narrative structure helped.
The question is, how many 10-14 year olds (which I think is probably the book's best target age range in terms of plot and characters) want to wade through pages and pages of bridge diagrams? I'd like to think lots--I need a new generation of bridge enthusiasts to play against!--but I have my doubts. So I'm not really sure who this book's audience is. Still, recommended if you like bridge.