YA Book Club :: THE WESTING GAME


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

July’s YA Book Club selection is
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)

I dig this cover.

From WikipediaSixteen heirs who are mysteriously chosen to live in the Sunset Towers apartment building on the shore of Lake Michigan, somewhere in Wisconsin, come together to hear the will of the self-made millionaire, Samuel W. Westing. The will takes the form of a puzzle, dividing the sixteen heirs into eight pairs, giving each pair a different set of clues, and challenging them to solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing. As an incentive, each heir is given $10,000 to play the game. Whoever solves the mystery will inherit Sam Westing’s $200 million fortune, and his company, Westing Paper Products.

I could go blue in the face listing The Westing Game‘s strengths. It is  clever in its humor, tight in its plotting, and subtle in its clue-dropping. It’s the literary version of the classic whodunit board game Clue.

The Westing Game‘s characters are compelling, each unique in his or her goals and flaws. Even though there are a lot of heirs, it’s fairly easy to keep everyone straight. My favorite heir is (of course) spunky kick-’em-in-the-shins Turtle, though I’m also a fan of Theo Theodorakis (in my head, he’s the strong and silent type) and Dr. Jake Wexler (whose dry sense of humor totally cracked me up). The characters, even more than the mystery,  kept me reading The Westing Game.

Speaking of the mystery… It’s very cool. While each pair of heirs attempted to decipher their clues, I had an inkling of the direction the random words were taking (the song tie-in is pretty obvious), but I had no idea of where those clues would  end up leading until the final pages of the story. There were enough red herrings, enough question marks in the narrative, enough suspicious behavior among the heirs, to keep me guessing. I was satisfied with the final answer to the puzzle, the solution only one heir was able to deduce. The Westing Game‘s conclusion made the entire story worth reading.

So, yes, The Westing Game is a fantastically crafted story. I was engaged while reading, and I would never argue this book’s merit or its quality of writing.

BUT…

I did not love The Westing Game.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in the minority in my opinion, but there it is. While The Westing Game was an entertaining enough read for Adult Katy, Middle Grade Katy would have disliked it. She would have grown weary of all the jumping around, she would have been bored by the adult-centered subplots, and most of the subtle humor would have gone right over her head. Don’t misunderstand — Middle Grade Katy wasn’t a dolt; she just liked her books a little more streamlined and a lot more fun.

Another issue… While the omniscient 3rd-person point of view was appropriate for The Westing Game‘s complex mystery, I found it distancing. I wanted to be in Turtle’s head for the duration of the story — she’s a fantastic protagonist! Considering that this book is most often shelved as Middle Grade, I would have guessed that we’d get the story through the eyes of a young person, and I would have enjoyed it much more had Turtle been the only person to narrate it.

So, there it is. The Westing Game was an entertaining read, one worth the time I devoted to it, but it simply didn’t have the emotional impact necessary for me to fall truly in love with it.

Have you read The Westing Game? What did you think?

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16 responses to “YA Book Club :: THE WESTING GAME

  1. Interesting point on the adult sub-plots. I think I’m with you–a lot of this probably would have gone over my head as a kid not because it was too complicated, but because I would have been pushing ahead to read Turtle’s parts. I did like it a lot though!

  2. I loved Dr. Wexler, too! And it’s funny you mention thinking the story would be told strictly through Turtle b/c she’s the only character I remembered from the first time I read it, years and years ago. I was surprised when I started rereading – for a few pages, I kept thinking, “Huh, what? Who are all these other people???”

    • I was surprised when I started reading too! I actually searched for the book on Goodreads to make sure it really was classified as Middle Grade. I was totally thrown by all of the adult stuff at the beginning, and throughout. I did dig Dr. Wexler, though. He’d be a funny sort of guy to be married to. 🙂

  3. I had much the same response to this book that you did, Katy. I didn’t read this one as a kid, but I know that middle grade Jaime would have probably found it a snoozefest. (No offence intended to the author.) I think it’s for all of the same reason you mention. I thought the characters were pleasantly quirky and the mystery was fun and kept me guessing, but overall, this was not a favourite. Still, it was well worth the read, in my opinion. 🙂

    Great review, Katy!

    • I almost wish I would have read this one as a middle grader… I wonder if I would have been interested in rereading as an adult? I am glad I took the time to experience this story now. It was unique and definitely entertaining. But yes… definitely a strange sort of book.

  4. I read this when I was young and I know I enjoyed it. I wish I had time to re-read with you all for thebook club–Tracey encouraged me–but with moving and what not I had NO time. 😦 Great review, and I like your “BUT” section in particular. (That sounds a little peculiar…) It’s okay not to be in love with “classics”!

    • You should reread it anyway, Kari! (You’ve got nothing better to do, right? ;)) I’d be very interested to hear your opinion now, as an adult who loved the book when she was a child.

  5. I mentioned to you before that I loved this one when I was a kid, but I have to confess that reading it out loud to my son has been a chore. The narrative just doesn’t flow and the perspective jumps around so much. Eleven-year-old me enjoyed piecing the clues together and was amazed by the reveal at the end of the book, and while I still think the mystery aspect is clever, I was hoping to love reading it to my son much more than I am. We’re only halfway through at this point. The premise of the 39 CLUES series is incredibly similar (in fact I would hazard a guess THE WESTING GAME was the inspiration for it) and I much preferred those. Thanks for sharing your review, Katy!

    • I hadn’t heard of the 39 CLUES series, Erin, but I just looked it up. Seems very cool! I’ll have to check my library to see if they have the first book in. I’m very curious now!

      Isn’t it disheartening when books from your childhood don’t entirely live up to the image of perfection you’ve built up in your head over the years? I’ve had that experience reading aloud with my daughter a few times now, and it’s such a bummer!

  6. I think I would have enjoyed this when I was younger, but I totally see your point–it did come across pretty adult, and I’m sure tons of stuff would have gone right over my head. I did find the jumping around quite confusing, especially because of the third person POV and how that meant that weren’t really any distinctive voices. Except for Turtle! I loved her so much. I definitely didn’t pick up on the song, though–the perks of being English, I guess 🙂

    • I think being English is a perfectly good excuse for not putting the song clues together. 🙂 And yes! I really enjoyed Turtle too! I can’t help but wonder if a book similar to this were submitted to agents/publishers now, would the author be asked to nail down one young protagonist and stick with her? Somehow, I can’t imagine a book like this (one without a distinct young person’s voice) debuting these days.

  7. You know, I forgot it wasn’t told in Turtle’s POV until I started re-reading it. My complaint is that I think it went on a bit too long, and I’d have loved for it to end at the chapter when you-know-who solves the mystery. Even so, I loved the characters enough that learning how it all turned out five years down the road was still interesting.

    • I totally get what you’re saying about the conclusion and extended “where are they now” bits. Though, it totally made me smile when I read that Turtle ended up with Theo. 🙂

  8. You make excellent points, Katy. I hear you. Yes, it could have been done all from Turtle’s POV (and I just adored poor misunderstood Turtle). I am the dolt here, though, because I didn’t realize it was a MG book. I didn’t read it (or hear about it) growing up so it was new to me. I knew that it was assigned in school, but it was so adult at times that I didn’t think of it as MG at all. I enjoyed it, but I totally see where you’re coming from. :0)

    • Had I not found THE WESTING GAME on the Middle Grade rack at my public library, I would have NEVER guessed it was a book intended for that audience. Turtle was awesome and was certainly a central character, but the themes in this story were, for the most part, SO adult. I can’t imagine giving this book to my daughter to read in a few years!