Title/Author: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, MG, Mystery, Classic, Newberry, Standalone
Published: 1978 by E.P. Dutton
Hardback, 182 pages
How I Got This Book: Checked it out from the Library
Why I Picked It Up?: Well, it is a Newberry Award-winner that has been on my to read list since childhood. So, I put it on my Classics Challenge list so I would read it! And now I have!
Book Jacket Blurb: “For over twenty-five years, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery Medal-winning The Westing Game has been an enduring favorite. It has sold over one and a half million copies. This highly inventive mystery involves sixteen people who are invited to the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. They could become millionaires—it all depends on how they play the tricky and dangerous Westing game, a game involving blizzards, burglaries, and bombings! Ellen Raskin has created a remarkable cast of characters in a puzzle-knotted, word-twisting plot filled with humor, intrigue, and suspense.
When an eccentric millionaire dies mysteriously, sixteen very unlikely people are gathered together for the reading of the will…and what a will it is!”
This November, the Book Smugglers‘ Old School Wednesday Monthly Readalong choice was The Westing Game! As this book has been on my TBR list since CHILDHOOD, and it is also on my Classics Club To Read list, I decided I was going to participate in the discussions this month and read The Westing Game with The Book Smugglers!
I really had no expectations going into this book, other than it won the Newberry Award, so there must be a literary reason for that! But honestly, I was not expecting such an intricate, classic mystery. I was overall pleasantly surprised with this book and enjoyed solving the puzzles immensely. There were so many fantastic characters, and Raskin wrote each and every one of them with a beautiful depth that made me care about each and every one.
The Book Smugglers posted some discussion questions to guide their thoughts, so I thought I would use them to guide my review of this book. So here it goes.
Discussion Questions (From The Book Smugglers):
The Westing Game is an elaborately constructed mystery, in which sixteen guests are first cleverly talked into leasing spaces in a particular, peculiar apartment building, then are invited as heirs to the Westing fortune – provided they can correctly answer the challenge put forward in Westing’s will. Let’s talk specifically about mystery/game elements. Did the mystery execution work for you? Why or why not?
The mystery/game was set up in a way to drive not only the characters and the plot, but also my involvement in the story as a reader. In classic mystery-solving style, the reader has just as many clues to the REVEAL as the characters do, so as a reader I empathized with each of the characters’ struggles and celebrated their determination right along with them! By writing it in this fashion, Raskin allows her readers to connect to her characters in ways that they might not have in another story context. In this mystery story-telling, each participant in the Westing Game becomes really important, and each character’s story is able to be told. And I really enjoyed that.
Let’s talk writing. Did the style work for you? Was the book dated in any significant (or detracting) way?
Many juvenile fiction books written around this time (1970s) were written in a more mature style of writing. The Westing Game in particular is probably the most adult juvenile fiction book I have ever read. The story-telling language is incredibly mature, which is appropriate for this mystery story in particular. However, for me anyway, I felt that this also hindered the pacing. As a juvenile fiction novel, I was expecting it to not be so heavy I guess. So maybe that is my fault for having a particular expectation for this genre, but it did hinder my enjoyment slightly because it moved more slowly.
How about the characters? The Westing Game features a sixteen (well, seventeen or more, depending on how you’re counting) person cast. Did the ensemble cast work? Did it fail? Who were your favorite characters?
Wow, I must say, I REALLY enjoyed the many characters of this novel. While it seems daunting to have a cast of 17+ characters in a juvenile fiction novel coming in at 182 pages, Raskin writes this book in a way that all of the characters have a place in the story! My favorite aspect of this book was the development of each of the characters separately, and then together with their assigned partners. It was beautiful to see so many broken, troubled characters blossom and grow when introduced to other people they wouldn’t ordinarily hang out with.
I just adored Turtle. She is definitely a character that gets overlooked in those “AWESOME CHARACTERS” lists, but she should TOTALLY be on it! She is inquisitive, she is determined, she is fierce, and she is SUPER intelligent. She also refuses to let anyone walk all over her. I just connected with her on a higher level than any of the other characters because of these qualities. She was the one I was secretly rooting for!
What is your favorite thing from this book? What weren’t you enthusiastic about?
I have kind of answered that already. But I really loved the intimacy that Raskin created between me as a reader and her characters. I was an invested third-party in this game of puzzles, and I wanted to see each of these characters do the best they could and grow from this experience.
The one negative was the pacing, simply because it was written at a higher literary level than I expected a JF novel to be.
Saving the best for last: let’s talk about modern interpretation and audience positioning. The Westing Game was originally published in 1978 as a children’s book. If The Westing Game been written and marketed today, do you think the book would have been positioned differently? Why?
Honestly, if this novel was published today, I doubt it would be a children’s book. I don’t think it would end up in the “cozy mysteries”, but I would probably lean towards categorizing it as a literary adult fiction novel due to the maturity in language. To me, this did not read as a children’s book. And there are plenty of “adult” books that star younger characters, so that really wouldn’t stop me from classifying it as adult. Reading the forward in the 25th anniversary edition helped me to understand a bit more about Raskin wrote the novel the way she did, and I respect that. So I really don’t know where it “should” belong anymore. I just think it would have been positioned differently if it would have been published, say, this year.
My Bookshelf Rating:
I was not expecting this book to pack such a mystery-punch! Written in true mystery form, Ellen Raskin introduces sixteen broken characters who are determined to change their lives by winning The Westing Game. This book is a children’s book written with adult pacing, which slowed the pace of this book just a little bit for me, but it did not deter my overall enjoyment! I was trying to solve this game right along with the characters, too! I was pleasantly surprised by all that this little book holds. A lot of grown-up stuff in here! The Westing Game was written in a beautiful style that will continue to deserve all of the merits it has earned over the years.
Love and Golden Apples,