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Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 05/15/2010 *Starred Review* With his latest novel, the Newbery-winning author of Holes (1998) fulfills a need the world probably didn’t even know it had: the great teen bridge novel. Alton Richard’s great-uncle Lester Trapp is rich and ailing, a combo that leads Alton’s parents to hatch a plan for the teen to cozy up to the old man and carve out a chunk of inheritance. Though blind, Trapp is a brilliant, world-class bridge player and needs someone to read him his cards and make his plays. Enter Alton, who wouldn’t begin to know how to decipher questions like “One banana, pass, pass, two no-trump. Is that unusual?” But he withstands the constant barbs from his irascible uncle and grows more intrigued by the game (in no small part due to the cute, kind-of-crazy girl who also plays). Sachar liberally doles out detailed commentary on the basics and then nuances of the game, and in a nod to the famously dull Moby-Dick chapter on the minutiae of whaling, a little whale image appears when the bridge talk is about to get deep so readers can skip right ahead to a pithy wrap-up. But don’t be fooled: it is astonishing how Sachar can make blow-by-blow accounts of bridge not only interesting but exciting, treating each play like a clue to unravel the riddle of each hand. An obvious windfall for smart and puzzle-minded teens, this is a great story to boot, with genuine characters (save the scheming parents) and real relationships, balanced by casual, confident storytelling. - Copyright 2010 Booklist.
Bulletin for the Center... - 06/01/2010 Summer was supposed to bring seventeen-year-old Alton Richards the usual hanging around, but instead he embarks on a strange enterprise when his great-uncle Lester, rendered blind by diabetes, asks Alton to serve as his cardturner in competitive contract bridge. Alton then finds himself enmeshed in a world of obsessive, intricate, and very smart gameplay, unraveling some misreported and painful family history, attracted to his great-uncle’s previous cardturner, pretty Toni Castaneda, and, eventually, becoming the vessel of a bridge ambition that reaches supernaturally from beyond the grave. There is more bridge here than in all the rest of youth literature combined, but Sachar’s amusing gimmick of providing an alert for the bridge-geeky passages (a whale, in a callback to Moby Dick’s tendency to devolve into whaling trivia) and then briefly summarizing the plot-relevant extracts in following boxed text genuinely does permit readers to choose just how much bridge to immerse themselves in. Which may be all of it, since the book gives the game the tension of poker combined with the allure of code-cracking, and Alton’s conversion to bridge junkie therefore makes perfect sense. The human drama is compelling as well; Alton’s gruff, laconic great-uncle and his bridge cronies are a colorful assembly, while narrator Alton is a nice but unassertive guy who learns about the rewards of taking charge. The move to supernatural story is surprising but also intriguing, providing an unexpected route to resolution for past losses and current quandaries. Readers who like puzzles and those who appreciate all kinds of skilled gameplay will be drawn to this intricate, charmingly benign, yet cutthroat world. An afterword goes into even more detail, believe it or not, about bridge. DS - Copyright 2010 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
School Library Journal - 06/01/2010 Gr 8 Up— Alton Richards is resigned to spending a slow summer on his own after his girlfriend leaves him for his best friend and he finds himself with no money and no job. Unfortunately, his mother insists that he become his blind great-uncle's chauffeur and cardturner at local bridge tournaments. Though the 17-year-old has only met Lester Trapp on a few occasions, his mother hopes that this connection will inspire the wealthy old man to write the family into his will. Alton reluctantly agrees, even though he knows nothing about bridge and has no interest in learning the game. He meets Toni Castaneda at the tournaments and soon discovers that he's not the only long-lost relative intent on winning over Trapp and his inheritance. What transpires is an intriguing glimpse into a crazy family full of secrets and unusual quirks. The characters are well limned, and the narrative is laced with Sachar's trademark wry humor. Most teens have very little knowledge about bridge, a fact that Alton acknowledges several times throughout the novel. At times, the story line becomes thick with technical game descriptions, though he does offer an option to skip these sections by providing a symbol to indicate more in-depth card instructions. This well-written novel contains a rewarding intergenerational friendship and a sweetly appealing romance in the making. Nonetheless it may require an additional nudge to hook readers. It's a nudge worth giving for motivated teens and those who enjoy Sachar's novels.—Stephanie Malosh, Donoghue Elementary School, Chicago, IL - Copyright 2010 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.