The Westing Game was first published in 1978, but I had never heard of it until a couple of years ago, which is a shame. I would have loved it as a child. Of course, I still enjoyed it and was able to read it out loud with Amber, who’s 11, so maybe the timing was perfect after all.
It tells the story of sixteen people, mostly strangers, who are all invited to live in an all-new, exclusive apartment building.
“Who were these people, these specially selected tenants? They were mothers and fathers and children. A Dressmaker, a secretay, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. (pg. 5)
One thin they have in common is that by moving into Sunset Towers, they are all drawn into the mystery of eccentric paper-goods giant Sam Westing. When Westing dies suddenly, all sixteen residents are invited to the reading of his last will and testament and told that his fortune will go to the one who finds the answer. To what, no one quite knows. According to the rules of the will/game, they are partnered up, given four clues, and most set off to solve the mystery.
The mystery. It’s quite well done, all the clues are there for us and for the characters to see, but I know I didn’t put it together until the end. The characters each see the clues through their own lenses, coming up with different conclusions, none of which are right. Well, until the end, but even then only one really gets it, understands what the mystery was and knows the answer. I don’t think that’s really a spoiler. After all, what fun’s a mystery if it never gets solved.
The characters. You would think with 16+ characters it would get crowded, but Raskin does a good job of giving us fully fleshed out characters. In the beginning, few of them are likeable really, but as the story goes, we learn more about them as they learn more about each other. Each grows or develops in some way, and by the end I liked them all, well almost all of them. There’s one lady who I just never warmed to.
It’s a middle school book, so even though most of the characters are adults, it really centers on the youngest of the would-be heirs, Turtle. She’s a spunky, smart kid, perhaps a little greedy, who has a tendency to kick people who pull her braid. She’s also funny and needs attention and love. (Her mom’s the one I disliked.)
The end. The book lasted about three chapters too long for me, and I’m not just saying that because the final couple of paragraphs had me in tears. Raskin wrapped up everybody’s story into the future and I just didn’t think it was necessary. That’s a minor quibble though and didn’t really detract from the book.
Great book, especially for a middle schooler who likes puzzles or just off-beat characters. I definitely recommend it.
4½ out of 5 stars
Category: Middle School – Mystery
Newbery Medal 1979
First published 1978
Book source: Gift to Amber