Feb 26 2020

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I am not 100% sure why I put this book on hold from the library, but I’m so glad I did. Perhaps it was recommended to me as a book for people who loved the recent movie Knives Out? Because I absolutely loved both.

The Westing Game is a challenge set by millionaire (this was the 1970s: in modern terms, he’d likely be a billionaire) Sam Westing, who invites 16 heirs to compete for the chance to earn his fortune now that he’s dead and gone. It’s no coincidence that all 16 heirs either live in or have a connection to Sunset Towers, a five-storey modern apartment complex on the shores of Lake Michigan, with a view to the supposedly abandoned and purportedly haunted Westing estate. Paired off to compete in solving clues to find out who killed him, the 16 contestants find themselves growing both together and closer as strange events begin to befall them in their hunt for the truth.

I know that Turtle, the 14 year-old, is supposed to be the heroine of the piece, but Ellen Raskin does such an amazing job of fleshing out the supporting characters that it feels more like a win for everyone when the book comes to its close. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Angela, Judge Ford and Sydelle, tho honestly my heart was warmed by everyone’s stories here. And it’s weird, because it’s not like Ms Raskin really delves into any of her characters’ interior lives. She’s just so adept at sketching with dialogue and the nuance of small gestures that it’s hard not to feel the humanity of everyone involved, even when they’re being called out on their failings. Seriously, it was a welcome shock to my modern sensibilities to have this book from the 1970s be far more socially progressive than some of the contemporary stuff I read today. It reminded me, in more ways than one, of my all-time favorite children’s book, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which also embraced empathy and diversity while telling a ripping good mystery.

And as with all great children’s books, this is the kind of novel that survives a reader’s growth to adulthood. If you haven’t read it already, do it now! One note, tho: maybe avoid the Kindle version. It felt a bit ironic that the ebook I had included a delightful section on Ms Raskin’s obsession with typesetting and design when the preceding text clearly lacked most of what she’d insisted on, due I suppose to the vagaries of Kindle/e-type settings. Hmm, maybe I ought to buy a hard copy of this novel for my 8 year-old for his upcoming birthday. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.

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