Some of you may be surprised to learn that until I read this post by agent Suzie Townsend on Claire LeGrand’s blog a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of THE WESTING GAME. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said that, like Suzie, he read THE WESTING GAME in school. At that point, it felt like I’d missed an important book during my middle school education, so I had to read it.
It’s amazingly difficult to find a description for a book that’s considered a classic. Here’s the short and sweet library blurb:
For over twenty-five years, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery Medal-winning THE WESTING GAME has been an enduring favorite. This highly inventive mystery involves sixteen people who are invited to the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. They could become millionaires, depending on how they play the tricky and dangerous Westing game, which involves blizzards, burglaries, and bombings. Ellen Raskin has entangled a remarkable cast of characters in a puzzle-knotted, word-twisting plot filled with humor, intrigue, and suspense.
Here are the five things I loved most about THE WESTING GAME, and, yes, I realize some of them overlap:
1. The mystery – I know. The mystery was my first point in last week’s post on THREE TIMES LUCKY, but I do love a good mystery. This one is a bit different, though, because the story’s told from an omniscient viewpoint. It’s the kind of puzzle where the author gives the reader all of the pieces–not just one person’s perception of them–and lets you try to solve the mystery. That being the case, I didn’t mind that I figured it out because the whole point was that I should try to do so.
2. What?! – I’m going to call this the “what” factor, and it goes along with the mystery. There were at least two reveals in the book that I totally didn’t see coming. Actually, even after I knew I still wanted to know why, but I guess it didn’t matter to the overall plot.
3. Turtle’s braid – What a strange attribute to have such an important role in the novel, but I loved the way Ellen Raskin made Turtle’s hair part of her identity. The first glimpse we get is when Doug Hoo thinks, “Touch her precious pigtail, even by accident, and she’ll kick you in the shins, the brat.” Shortly after that we have, “Flora Baumbach, about to rise with the found pin, quickly sank down again to protect her sore shin in the shag carpeting. She had pulled Turtle’s braid in the lobby yesterday.” The braid and Turtle’s shin-kicking tendencies are a running joke in the book. But her hair is a serious business to Turtle. There are two poignant scenes with first her mother and then Flora brushing Turtle’s hair that become symbolic of her relationship with each woman. It was very well done.
4. Who is Sam Westing? – This question is central to solving the mystery, but it goes deeper. How are the heirs connected to Sam? A few are obvious, but for most of them you have to wait for the answer. Clues are dropped. In looking for quotes for this review, I reread the first few pages and noticed tidbits I’d glossed over the first time through. That’s the mark of excellent plotting.
5. Staying power – This book was written 25 years ago, and it’s still relevant. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking certain classics wouldn’t get published in today’s environment. This one would. Sure, someone might call Ellen Raskin on head-hopping or the focus on adult characters, but it works. At a time when middle grade wasn’t yet a popular genre, she set the bar high.
Did anyone else miss this book as a kid? Even if you did read it ten or twenty years ago, it’s worth another look. Let me know what you think!