…Sachar handles complicated narrative structures with a light, sure touch, as he did in his brilliant Holes. This new novel deftly threads bridge diagrams and philosophical ideas through the short chapters of a coming-of-age story. And readers needn't be card sharks to enjoy the book. They can choose to wend through carefully marked descriptions of the characters' bridge play or skip them entirely and stick to the basic story line. Either way leads straight to Alton's quiet heart and his developing desire to become his own cardturner in the big game of life.
The Washington Post
After his girlfriend hooks up with his best friend, Alton Richards is too shell-shocked to be hunting for new adventures. Recognizing his doldrums, his parents dispatch him on a strange summer assignment: His new job, four times a week, is to turn cards for his blind, bridge-playing great-uncle Lester. Aging, rich, and visibly frail, Lester Trapp is surrounded by family, servants, and nurses attentive to the old man's wishesand will choices. Watching their mixed motives (and some of his own), Alton learns to discern the difference between illusion and reality. A winning trick from the author of the multi-award winning Holes.
“I realize that reading about a bridge game isn't exactly thrilling,” 17-year-old narrator Alton tells readers early on. Luckily, this funny and thoughtful novel is as much about building bridges—between generations and maybe even between life and death—as it is about playing cards. Alton gets roped into serving as a card turner for his great-uncle, Lester Trapp, a bridge whiz who recently lost his eyesight (Alton's job is to read Trapp's cards for him). Though Alton barely knows Trapp, his opportunistic mother won't miss a chance for Alton to get in good with his “favorite uncle,” who's wealthy and in poor health. To Alton's surprise, he becomes enamored of the game and begins to bond with his crusty uncle—who shares insight into synchronicity and the connection between reality and perception. With dry, understated humor, Alton makes the intricacies of bridge accessible, while his relationships with and observations about family members and friends (including an ex-girlfriend, a manipulative best friend, and especially Trapp's former card turner) form a portrait of a reflective teenager whose life is infinitely enriched by connections he never expected to make. Ages 12–up. (May)
VOYA - Matthew Weaver
At his parents' urging, Alton Richards begins assisting his wealthy great-uncle Trapp, a master bridge player. Trapp is blind and his last cardturner dared to question him, so Alton's parents see this as the perfect opportunity to get in good with Trapp. Soon, Alton learns the rules of the game, and hints to a long-buried scandal involving a presidential hopeful's wife. He also develops a love of the game himself. He gets to know his predecessor, the lovely yet likely insane Toni Castaneda, a possible rival for Trapp's fortune and a potential soul mate. Already well-versed at immersing readers in fantastic, strange new worlds, Sachar is the first to admit that a novel about bridge seems unlikely. To prove this point, he includes pictures of a whale as a warning any time the story goes into "Moby Dick"-style detail. Still, all of his artistry is on display, with rich characters, an intriguing mystery and more than a dash of infectious enthusiasm. It's not hard to envision extracurricular bridge competitions popping up in schools all over as a result. Perhaps because of its relatively unusual subject matter, the story never fully reaches the epic proportions achieved in his previous classics like Holes (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998/VOYA December 1998) and Sideways Stories from Wayside School (HarperCollins,1998), but Sachar has undeniably written the Great American Bridge Novel. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver
The summer between junior and senior year doesn't look exciting for Alton Richards. He has no job so he has no money. His girlfriend dumps him so she can date his best friend. Then his parents insist that he drive his rich great-uncle Lester to bridge club four times a week. Because Uncle Lester is old and blind, Alton will also have to be his cardturnereven though Alton has no idea what that means. Alton becomes fascinated by his wealthy, old, and blind great-uncle and worries about the number of people trying to worm their way into Lester's good graces (and his will). As Alton learns bridge, he struggles to figure out his own life, his relationship with pretty Toni Castaneda, and the difference between perception and reality. This wry and witty novel makes you question what you know and what you think you know. Reviewer: Melanie Hundley
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—It's the summer after his junior year of high school, and Alton Richards is told by his parents that he must drive his blind, rich great-uncle Trapp to his bridge club four times a week and turn cards for him in this novel (Delacorte, 2010) by Louis Sachar. His mother hopes that by worming his way into his uncle's affections, the family might be written into his will. It's soon apparent that there are others with the same intentions. Despite Trapp's blindness and health issues, he is a master bridge player and Alton turns out to be his right hand man in more ways than one. As the card games progress Alton develops admiration and respect for his seemingly cranky old uncle as well as the game of bridge. Sachar reads each chapter of the first-person narrative in a deceptively matter-of-fact style that contains all the angst, apathy, and humor that defines Alton.—Ivy Miller, Wyoming Seminary Upper School, Kingston, PA
Who wants to read a novel about playing bridge-a dull, old-fashioned game nobody plays anymore, some old person's idea of fun before there were cell phones, television, iPods and video games? That's what 17-year-old Alton Richards thinks about bridge when he gets a job as cardturner for his diabetic, blind and curmudgeonly (and fabulously rich) Uncle Lester Trapp, a bridge master. In a journey into the culture of bridge and its alien rules and language, Alton comes to see the extraordinary in Trapp and to consider such new ideas as perception, synchronicity, randomness and the subconscious. Alton's first-person voice is the right vehicle for taking readers into this world and delineating how Alton is changed by the newfound relationship with his uncle and sort-of cousin Toni. Readers need not be card sharks to appreciate this unusual story; in fact, they will soon realize they've been dealt more than cards in this narrative of how big ideas and unforgettable characters affect Alton as he learns to take charge of his life and play his own hand. Intelligent readers will love this work-it's in the cards. (appendix) (Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
My Favorite Uncle
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."
"I love you, Uncle Lester," I'd say.
"Tell him he's your favorite uncle."
"You're my favorite uncle."
It got worse as I got older. I never knew what to say to him, and he never seemed all that interested in talking to me. When I became a teenager I felt silly telling him he was my favorite uncle, although my mother still urged me to do so. I'd say things like "Hey, how's it goin'?" and he'd grunt some response. He might ask me a question about school. I imagine it was a great relief to both of us when my mother took back the phone. Our brief conversations always left me feeling embarrassed, and just a little bit creepy.
He was actually my great-uncle, having been my mother's favorite uncle long before he was mine.
I didn't know how much money he had, but he was rich enough that he never had to be nice to anyone. Our favorite uncle never visited us, and I think my mother initiated all the phone conversations with him. Later, after he got really sick, he wouldn't even talk to her. My mother would call almost daily, but she could never get past his housekeeper. I had only met Uncle Lester face to face one time, at his sixty-fifth birthday party. I was six years old, and to me, his house seemed like a castle on a mountaintop. I said the obligatory "Happy birthday" and "I love you" and "You're my favorite uncle" and then steered clear of him.
"His heart is as cold as a brick," my father said on the drive home.
That phrase has stuck with me, I think, because my father used the word cold instead of hard.
My elementary school was a brick building. Every day on the way home, I would drag my fingers over the hard, and yes, cold surface.
I'm in high school now, but still whenever I walk by a brick building, I feel compelled to touch it. Even now, as I write this, I can almost feel the hard coolness, the sharp edges, and the roughness of the cement between the bricks.