The Cardturner by Louis Sachar (YA)
Seventeen year old Alton is always being reminded that his great-uncle Lester (or Trapp, as his real friends call him) is his favourite uncle. Not because he’s actually his favourite, but because Trapp is extremely rich and will hopefully leave all his money to Alton’s family. This money is pretty much expected, because his parents have overextended themselves pre-emptively in anticipation of the riches that they’ll receive. However, Trapp isn’t dead yet and he needs an assistant. Trapp has gone blind because of his diabetes, but he still wants to play bridge. His last cardturner, Toni, questioned him at one point, so she has started to actually start playing bridge as Trapp's occasional partner. Instead, Alton will step in because he doesn’t know anything about the game. Basically, with each new hand of cards, Alton takes Trapp aside and tells him what he has, and then plays the cards as Trapp tells him during the game. Trapp assumes that Alton will never be interested in the game, but he’s very wrong. The more Alton watches, the more he wants to learn.
As Alton learns more and starts to practice, the reader can learn more (if he or she really wants to). Whenever there’s a section explaining how the game works, there’s a little whale so that if the reader wants to skip to the quick summary box, he or she can. I personally found it fascinating, but that’s just me, and I can understand why other people wouldn’t want to learn about bridge. Sachar seems to know how teens think, and gives those with no interest in bridge a way out without them giving up on the book.
Of course, this wouldn’t be great YA with just an explanation of bridge. In fact, that would probably get Sachar tons of angry letters from readers who were expecting to read a novel. No, Alton learns the dark secrets of Trapp’s past, makes a friend (or more) out of Toni, and tries to balance the complications that occur when your best friend is dating your ex-girlfriend. He also starts to realise how strange his parents really are for expecting Trapp's money. I liked how bridge really does seem to be a metaphor for life, it’s what you do with the hand you’re dealt that counts.