Janet’s Recommendation: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Janet had a couple of recommendations for me but The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin had been on my to-read list for a long time so I thought: “Heck! This is perfect!”

Now, I had my doubts because this book was published in 1979 and perhaps it would be a little dated or overly didactic as a product of it’s time. But, I have to say The Westing Game blew me out of the water. It was hilarious, super clever and a wonderful read for anyone at any age.

Here’s the down-low:

A bunch of complete strangers, and interesting characters, are all hand-picked to live in Sunrise Towers, a new apartment building within viewing distance of the old Westing House. Then someone, or multiple someones, from each apartment are named as heirs to the Westing fortune. They are also told that one of them is the murderer of Sam Westing…

Actually there is no corpse (yet), but none of the heirs know that when the game kicks off. The first thing the will does is pair the heirs off and then it offers each pair a clue, or a set of one word clues. The first pair to figure out the answer – who murdered Sam Westing – will inherit all of the Westing fortune. Understandably there is skullduggery abound as pairs of heirs attempt to steal, sneak a peak at or cajole clues from one another, and there are bombings, a mysterious accident or two and even more surprisingly… friendships formed. Of course the mystery (it’s really a riddle or, as the title indicates, a game) takes front and centre, but the heart of the story lies with the diverse cast of characters and the relationships formed throughout the book.

Raskin did such an excellent job with her characters that I just have to sit back in awe. There are so many of them (16 heirs!) and not all of them are immediately likable. Mr. Hoo for instance is rather is brash and rude and envious, or the seamstress Flora Baumbach who is sort of simpering and weak, or Grace Wexler the overbearing mother of Angela and Turtle who clearly plays favourites and aspires to climb the social ladder at any cost. But by the end they are all, at the very least, characters we understand and empathise with and we are happy to see that most of them enjoy a happy ending.

I would say that the two characters that took front and centre were the young Turtle, or Tabitha-Ruth or as she tells her partner Flora “Alice”, and Sydelle Polaski. Turtle is the intelligent teen who ultimately solves the game of the will – but I won’t say any more here – she is clever and quick. Turtle was just so perfectly 12 years old, she is just starting to figure out when saying whatever is in her head might hurt someones feelings, she is brave and harsh (get on her bad side and she’ll kick you in the shin) and so unwittingly funny, a truly enjoyable character. Sydelle on the other hand is not immediately a character who catches your attention… but that’s just the point. Sydelle does everything she can think of to get attention – even so far as using crutches without a need for them – but over the course of the novel she comes to terms with herself and gives up her attention seeking ways (which greatly improves her quality of life) and she does a fair bit of mystery solving herself.

This is all to say, again, that I loved Raskin’s cast of characters. There are more – 16! – but I won’t go over it all. You’ll enjoy reading all about them and I’m sure that each reader enjoys a different set of characters for their own reasons.

I can totally see why Janet recommends this read. The Westing Game is confoundingly clever (much like Janet!) and witty and full of unconventional characters. I’m not going to lie, I figured out and foresaw quite a bit BUT I didn’t figure out the riddle of the clues and I think a young reader will really enjoy the twists that Raskin takes them on. On top of it all it’s a fast paced read that is not slowed by any plotting tricks (romance, characters not speaking with one another, unnecessary sidetracks) and great for any kind of reader – reluctant, any gender, any age. A hilarious perfect blend of the complicated game and intriguing characters.

4 responses to “Janet’s Recommendation: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

  1. I read The Westing Game in elementary school, and remember loving it. I think I need to reread it again sometime. Thanks for the post :)

  2. I love this book! I remember reading it several times as a kid, because despite knowing the ending I could never quite remember all the twists and turns and so it was always an enjoyable reread. And now, it looks like I’ll have to read it yet again!
    And even with all the covers you showcased in this post, you still didn’t hit the one I have: https://readsusanberry.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/westing.jpg It’s amazing how many different, beautiful covers this book has!

  3. Aw, shucks. I’m so glad you liked The Westing Game!
    Your description of Turtle reminds me of Kat in Kat, Incorrigible – another brave twelve year old who just might kick someone in the shins.

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