Book Report: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

OK, I know what you’re thinking, this is a tween book… and I guess you would be right. I bought this book for my daughters for Christmas. In fact, I had to order it from Indigo since it’s not a normally stocked item. I ordered it because of all the books that I read as a kid (meaning, pre-middle school) this one made the biggest impression on me. I’m not sure why, but I just remember really, really, really liking it. So, since my kids had other books on the go, and I was looking of a quick read… voila!

westing game book

My recollection of the story line from (*cough*) thirty years ago, was pretty vague. I remember it being a puzzle mystery with clues that gradually build the story line with an unlikely cast of characters, but that was about it.

So as a brief little recap: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is about 16 people, all unrelated to each other, who are requested to move into a new, fancy apartment building on the shores of lake Michigan. Now, suspend your disbelief for a moment, as they all somehow agree to move into the building at basically the same time. This would be a realtor’s wet dream! The list of new tenants includes a podiatrist and his family, an Asian family and their teenage son, a state judge, a delivery man, a secretary, a dressmaker, a young medical intern as well as a few other interesting and unlikely characters.

We quickly learn that almost all of the new tenants have specifically been chosen as heirs to the Samuel Westing fortune. Sam Westing, the mysterious millionaire recluse whose mansion sits on a hill overlooking the town and more specifically the new apartment building, has suddenly just died, or was he murdered?   During the reading of the will, the heirs are each given a set of clues. The clues will lead to the murderer and whichever heir solves the puzzle will inherit the Westing fortune. The kicker: one of the heirs may be the murder!

It was a fun little read, just less than 200 pages, but it was actually better than I remember. And honestly, it didn’t feel like a children’s book at all. I was actually wondering if my girls would be able to keep all of the clues and characters straight, as even I found it tricky to keep all the details in line. Since the book was written in the late 1970’s there is the obvious lack of technology, particularly evident when one character hires a private investigator to dig up information (mainly old newspaper articles) on Sam Westing and the other potential heirs… something a quick Google search would uncover today. Also, a freak, but brief snow-storm ‘cuts them off to the world’ for a couple of days, which of course wouldn’t really happen in today’s wired world.

Overall, it was a great read, with some fun twists and plot turns throughout. The ending will make you wonder how you didn’t figure it out sooner. My girls are still elbow-deep in Harry Potter, but I’m curious and excited about what they think of The Westing Game, and if they will enjoy reading it as much as I did at their age.



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