The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
First published 1978
Still in print
My history with this book:
I first read The Westing Game when I was 10 or 11. It was one of my childhood favorites, and I read it several times. I was looking forward to revisiting it. That’s my well-loved childhood copy in the photo.
I loved this book as a kid, and I loved it again as an adult.
The Westing Game is the story of a group of seemingly unconnected people who all move to a new luxury apartment building. Shortly thereafter reclusive millionaire Samuel Westing dies and his will brings together most of the residents of the building. They’re potential heirs to the Westing fortune, but they only get the fortune if they solve Westing’s murder. Thus begins a clever and intriguing game.
Although there are many characters, the most memorable one is Turtle, a 13-year-old girl who’s determined the solve the mystery. She’s very smart, but she’s not very pretty, unlike her beautiful older sister, Angela, whose shadow Turtle lives in.
People being overlooked is a big theme in the book. Turtle is overlooked because she’s just a kid. Another character, Chris, is in a wheelchair and has trouble speaking, so people tend to underestimate him, although he’s also very bright and observant, noticing things the others don’t see. Madame Hoo doesn’t speak English, so she’s mostly ignored. And even beautiful Angela is invisible in her own way. Everyone sees her beauty, but no one sees the misery inside.
An aspect of the book that I really enjoyed is that the terms of the will force the heirs into pairs, and each pair is rather unlikely. But these oddball pairings end up being complementary. Turtle’s angry edges are softened when she’s paired with Mrs. Baumbach, a sweet older woman. Timid Angela and attention-hungry Sydelle bring out the best in each other. Turtle’s slightly racist mother and Chinese-American inventor/restauranteur Jimmy Hoo are a bad match at first, but end up making a connection. I like the idea of showing kids that friendships can be found in unlikely places.
And then there’s the mystery, a multilayered puzzle with many pieces. It’s the kind of story where you can try to figure things out as you read, or you can just relax and enjoy the eventual solution, which is a satisfying one.
Does it hold up?
Yes, definitely. There are some dated attitudes about Angela’s future. She had to drop out of college, because of her parents’ financial issues, and although she wants to become a doctor, her mother is pushing her into marrying a doctor because it’s so hard for women to go to medical school. Ugh.
Is there any objectionable content?
Grace is mildly racist, but her behavior is presented negatively. The word retarded is used twice, not in a pejorative sense, but as a term to refer to the developmentally disabled. I know this was common usage at the time the book was written, but it feels very dated and might require some explanation for kids.
Can you read it aloud?
Do I want my kid to read it?
Definitely. I can’t wait to share this one with him.
The Westing Game is still in print and is available in physical and ebook form. It should be widely available in libraries.