Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin

Publisher:  Avon Books (1984 edition)

Format: Paperback - I have the version with the worst cover I think! 
Copyright: 1978
Pages: 184

Genre: Children's classic
Source: own book

From the back cover of my copy:
"I, Samuel W. Westing, declare this to be my last will and testament and do hereby swear that I did not die of natural causes. My life was taken from my — by one of you!" 

Who Dares Play The Westing Game?
Sixteen players are possible heirs to Sam Westing's fortune. And all of them are suspects in the case of his curious demise. The one who discovers the villain's identity wins $200 million ... and the losers loose all!

Can You Solve The Mystery Before They Do ?   
Only you have all the clues. But you're competing against come very clever players — including Doug Hoo, the high-school track star...Angela Wexler, a beautiful bride-to-be...Turtle Wexler, her thirteen-year-old shin-kicking sister...Chris, fifteen, who sees everything from his window, a stuck-up doctor's wife, and the grumbling Chinese restaurant owner. They all have a hidden motive. But remember — nothing is what it seems to be.

Well, I will start by saying that adore Ellen Raskin and always have since I first read a book by her. I don't even remember which book it was because at this point I have randomly re-read all of her novels several times over the years. I believe my favorite book is The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues but that is subject to change. Thus I can't give her books a sensible rating - they been five claw books for me for years, since I first checked them out of the library in elementary school. Actually that isn't quite true - I have always struggled with The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) for reasons that I can't explain without dumping some serious spoilers. I still like and appreciate it, but have to read another one of her books right away to sooth my nerves. Also - just *years* NO!  (I want to get my hands on her picture books now too. Nothing Ever Happens on My Block is a hoot and I just realized that I need to get Spectacles for my daughter!) 

So, I just finished re-reading The Westing Game last night for the Midnight Garden's Classic YA Readalong. Their Readalong Discussion is on Friday, June 27th, 2014 but I wanted to get a jump on my post.

Happily, I still love it. Since I can't do a real 'review' I will just concentrate on some of the things that I really appreciate. The ensemble cast is handled really, really well - yes, you really are following the 16 players plus at least five other characters. For such a tiny book, almost all of the characters are really well fleshed out, with motivations, personalities and individuality. (Compare that to some of the multi-volume tomes published more recently where it is hard to describe the personality of the central character, much less anyone else in the story).

There isn't really a central protagonist that you are stuck rooting for - instead different readers generally relate to one or more of the characters and cheer them on (in my experience girls tend to pick Turtle and/or Angela, boys pick Theo, Chris and/or Doug, while for adults it gets more complicated). Even the 'bad guys' have understandable motivations and become more sympathetic as you learn about them. No one is a throwaway or one-note stereotype. Most of them experience revelations of some kind and change/grow as people.

The clues dropped in the text are not just to the 'mystery' but also clues to people - why they act the way they do, how they got to this point, what their motivations are. The reader is assembling the clues to each of the players, as well as the missing central character Sam Westing, who is a mass of contradictions. In fact, pretty much everyone is contradictory at different times, i.e. behaving like a human in ways subtle, crude or profound - making you what to shout at them, hug them or give them a good, swift kick to the shin.   

It is also nice to re-visit a book where people actually act nervous and get  jumpy because they think a murderer is on the loose and strange things are happening.  In so many books the characters just keep going on like nothing is happening. Stress makes people change their behavior and act out. 

The way the book ends is also highly satisfactory and gives you a sense of both closure and continuation. Pretty amazing for a little 184 page paperback. 


  1. Yeah, I'm constantly impressed with what Ellen Raskin pulls off in this book. I've loved it just as much every time I've reread it.

  2. Multiple POVs are a huge pet peeve for me when they are unnecessary or you can't tell one protagonist from the other, so every time I read this I am impressed all over again with how PERFECTLY crafted her narrative is. She really does handle them all so well! I love what you say about how the clues dropped aren't just clues to the mystery, but to the people as well.

    And yesss, the jumpy atmosphere is terrific. When I think about some of the clumsy YA retellings/books influenced by Agatha Christie that have come out more recently (TEN by Gretchen McNeil comes to mind--I keep picking on that book and I feel bad because I hear the author's really nice, but that book was...not good), it makes me appreciate THE WESTING GAME even more.

    Thanks so much for the lovely discussion, both on our blog and here!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. I know - I am not a fan of multiple POVs myself generally - almost to the point that I think it should be a rule that authors don't switch within a chapter because it gets ridiculously hard to figure out who your narrator is and why you are suddenly in their head. I also really hate when their is a POV switch just to tell the reader how awesome the main character is - the whole 'she didn't realize how lovely she looked with her tussled hair struggling to turn the slond puffa.' or whatever nonsense. That kills me.

      Then Raskin comes along and effortlessly jumps from head to head with wild abandon and not only does it not bug me - I love it! No trouble at all telling whose POV I am following, no trouble understanding and appreciating the switch. Amazing.


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