You know that book that you read as a kid, have vivid memories of a few certain parts but otherwise remember nothing about it, and to this day still love? For me, that is Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. The Westing Game is a good, old-fashioned murder mystery, as the “heirs” of recently departed paper magnet Samuel Westing play the game outlined in his will and attempt to discover his murderer. These heirs, all hand-picked to live in Sunset Towers overlooking the Westing mansion on the edge of Lake Michigan, include a high-school track star and his restauranteur father, a studious teen and his ill, bird-enthusiast brother, a 60-year-old delivery boy, a judge, a housekeeper, a doorman, a family of four, and a mistake, among others. Some have real connections to Westing, others don’t, but all are caught up in his game, chasing the carrot of inheriting his vast fortune. Though really an ensemble piece, we spend the most time with Turtle, an irascible, shin-kicking, middle schooler who is more observant than she seems.
I hadn’t thought about this book in several years, and I decided to read it again after subbing for a 7th grade English class this past week. I had such a fun time discussing the clues the students were discovering that I told them I would read it, too. About two hours later, one of the students found me with the middle school principal and asked, “Have you read it yet?” Obviously the answer was no, but he begged me to read it as soon as possible. “I want to know if I’m right!” he said. He had developed a rather intriguing and well-reasoned theory and wanted confirmation before he finished reading the book. The principal decided to find a copy for me to borrow, and I sat down Friday to reread it.
It is an extremely quick read. Raskin’s plot is tight and well-placed, and her style is streamlined yet imaginative. There is not a lot of extra fat in this book. If Raskin writes it, it is likely to be important. The mystery itself is not difficult to discover if you pay attention as you read, but likewise, it is a satisfying delight to read Turtle’s revelation toward the end. Raskin’s book is intended for young readers, so the clues are just buried enough for readers to have to look and actually think in order to solve the crime while still being visible enough to solve it. The book itself is a jewel, a perfect way to get a reader hooked on mysteries. Even as an adult rereading it, I found myself caught up in the plot, making note of new clues and delighting as I put the pieces together, figuring a key element out before the rest of the characters. Really, it’s such a fun, satisfying read.
It’s that element of discovery that has my young friend hooked as well. I love how excited he is getting as he makes these connections. I asked him if he liked that feeling, and he exclaimed, “YES! It’s awesome! I feel so smart! It’s like I totally get it before anyone else!” And that, my friends, is the basis of literary analysis and why reading is the best thing ever. So thank you, Ms. Raskin, for continuing to convert the next generation into butt-kicking, literature analyzing, lovers of reading.