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!
Oh my word–it has been a long time since I read this one when I first started at the library.It what a new release. Um, published 25 years ago? Are you sure,lol? How the time it does fly.
Thanks for the great review and thoughts on this one. I think I need a TBRR pile…to be re-read!
Ha! I didn’t actually look at the publishing date, but all the descriptions say “for over 25 years,” so I’m trusting that. I love re-reading books, especially if it’s been many, many years and I won’t remember the ending clearly. Hope you enjoy it again!
I did miss this book as a kid! I do remember reading suspenseful books by Lois Duncan. Did you ever read Summer of Fear (made into a movie featuring the infamous Linda Blair) or I Know What You Did Last Summer (also made into a slasher movie that Lois Duncan hated). I’ll have to check the Westing Game, though it sounds like it’s more of a mystery than a thriller?
Yes, it’s definitely more of a mystery. There’s suspense, but no psycho killer on the loose.
I never read Lois Duncan. I did read a lot of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.
This is one of those older books that I have never read–as a kid or now. Clearly, I need to get to it.
Yes, go check it out! I have a list of these older books that I see mentioned quite a bit. I’m getting to them as I can.
YES, Barbara, you need to read it now! LOL.
Oooo, I read this book many many years ago and I’ve forgotten all the details. Clearly, I need to read it again! Thanks for the reminder, Michelle.
It’s definitely worth a re-read. Hope you enjoy it more a second time!
i did read this when i was young and i LOVED it.i loved mysteries as a kid and this was a great one. thanks for reminding me.
Me too. I was all about Nancy Drew. Wish I’d known about this one as a kid!
I read this book in 4th grade and really enjoyed it. My student teacher read it to my class this year and they hated it (to put it mildy). I recently talked to a former student who is in 7th grade and they told me they just read The Westing Game and loved it. This makes me think that it might be a better book to read to yourself than to have read to you. I think the POV that the book is told from might be too confusing to read aloud- or maybe my class wasn’t ready. I enjoyed your review and I agree with the points you made about the mystery and Turtle’s hair. 🙂 I was surprised by a few things myself- even the second time around.
That’s very interesting. I can see how it would be confusing read aloud as it does jump from character to character. It’s definitely told from a narrator’s point of view, and that’s not as common in MG these days. Thanks for sharing!
THE WESTING GAME is one of my all-time favorites. Oh my yes, yes, yes!!! It’s simply marvelous and I’ve read it many times.
So interesting about the comment above where the students who were read the book aloud didn’t like it.
So much more happens inside our own heads, I think, when we read it to ourselves.
Huge Nancy Drew fan, here, too. And HARRIET THE SPY. And I read all the Phylis Whitney mysteries as well. Mysteries are so hard to write though. I tried, without success, with the first two manuscripts I ever wrote. But at last – my first sorta mystery will be out next April! :-)It’s got quite a bit of Magical Realism though, too.
I’ve never read HARRIET THE SPY or Phylis Whitney. Some more older books to add to my TBR list!
P.S. It was published in 1978 and won the 1979 Newbery Medal. So the book is 34 years old! Pretty amazing to still feel so fresh and contemporary.
I hated this book.