It’s confession time. I gave my 17-year-old nephew a pre-read book for Christmas. I read it really carefully, though and didn’t get chocolate on it or anything. At any rate, I’m not sorry, because the book was Eric Luper’s debut novel Big Slick, and it was fantastic.
In poker terms, a big slick is when you start a hand of Texas Hold ’em with an Ace and a King showing. It’s a strong starting hand, but in the case of main character Andrew Lang, things fall apart quickly. Lang is a boy genius of sorts — the youngest player at Shushie’s underground poker club, and he has a knack for the game. But he borrowed money from his dad’s dry cleaning business to enter a tournament and digs himself deeper and deeper in trouble with every page in Big Slick. Add to that mix some family tension, a really cute little brother, a loyal best friend, and a hot goth girl who works with Andrew at Dad’s dry cleaning business, and you have a seriously compelling plot.
This is a book that teenaged boys — and girls, since there’s a cool, strong female character, too — will love. It’s not one of those YA novels that you’ll want to share with most middle school kids, though. The language is intense sometimes, and there’s a pretty steamy romance scene. It’s definitely more of a high school title — and a perfect one for reluctant readers at that age.
Even though I’m not a poker player (okay…this is an understatement. I’ve been to Las Vegas exactly once, and the people gambling all around me made me nervous enough to break out in hives), I loved this book. Probably because it isn’t really just about poker after all. When all the cards are turned, Big Slick is a fast-moving, gutsy novel about finding your way in the world, making mistakes, and making good.