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?