Judged by Jess • find her on Goodreads
Anyone who has ever had any kind of discussion about Young Adult literature with me knows that one of my personal pet peeves is the absence of adults in the lives of the protagonists, particularly in contemporary-set YA. It’s not that I don’t understand the reasons for it; sending children off to fight evil is a lot more difficult if you have parents around to remind the kids about their bedtimes and to brush their teeth. And it’s certainly not as if there aren’t children and teenagers who lack significant adults in their lives or who have abusive relationships with the ones that they do have, and those children deserve to have stories that reflect or better their reality, too. But as someone who had the privilege (and occasionally misfortune) of growing up with adults who were present in her life, the lack of them in books grates and can feel very unrealistic, depending on the story that the author is trying to tell.
And it’s largely for this reason that I’ve chosen The Cardturner by Louis Sachar as the novel to advance in this round of the YA/MG Book Battle.
To start, this work is multi-generational, featuring not just parents and children, but a great-uncle and other adults of his generation. If the relationships between protagonists and their parents are infrequently shown in YA, the relationships between protagonists and people two generations removed are virtually non-existent.
Second, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to relationships in this book. Alton’s parents are greedy people who want to use their son to secure an inheritance, but they’re pretty average parents despite this, as evidenced by scenes like the one where Toni comes over to play bridge and Alton gets embarrassed by his mother in the way that teenagers do. (Admittedly, she goes beyond embarrassing into offensive, but the embarrassing comes first.) Lester treats Alton as an inanimate object when their relationship starts, and Alton is allowed to resent him for this. But that’s not the only type of relationship that Lester is capable of, which we see through his treatment of Toni as his protege and the way that things shift between Lester and Alton as the book progresses. Though teenagers are often loathe to admit it, they can learn things from those who have more life experience than they do, and we see Alton begin to appreciate that as he spends more time with Lester. I also really enjoyed the way that the other older members of the bridge club were enthusiastic about the presence of teenagers in their midst. My family’s card game of choice was sheepshead, not bridge, but the minute that I or any of my cousins showed the slightest bit of interest in learning how to play, we were pulled up to the table and dealt in, with plenty of people willing to offer advice on how best to play our hand.
If there’s one thing that makes me hesitate to choose The Cardturner, though, it’s the surprise supernatural element at the end of the book. In particular, the way this led to that element and a serious mental illness being conflated made me a little uncomfortable. I understand why the author made that choice, as it offered a resolution to a dangling plot thread; it’s just that my own personal preference would have been for a straight contemporary work.
My experience with the other book in this battle, Chime by Franny Billingsley, was less positive. Generally speaking, I found the presence of realistic elements alongside the fantasy distracting and it left me unable to fully buy into the world that Billingsley was trying to create. When reading fantasy, my taste runs more towards traditional high fantasy or more straightforward urban fantasy, so this may have simply been a bad match of book to reader.
On the whole, however, I was glad for the chance to cross both books off my personal to-read list and am glad that the book battle gave me the opportunity to do so.
Congratulations to The Cardturner, which moves on to Round 2!