Saturday, April 25, 2015

Newbery Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979 Medal Winner)

Ah, The Westing Game. I first read this short read, one of my favorites to this day, in seventh grade. When I went for standardized testing in eighth grade, it was recommended to we who were being tested to bring a book to read on breaks. I think there were at least six out of fifteen of us who had brought different editions of The Westing Game, compact, black, and decorated with chess pieces. Of course this led to laughs and a book discussion, where we all came to the same conclusion:

Ellen Raskin must've been some sort of wizard to write this story.

I still wonder that today, to be honest.

In The Westing Game, sixteen mismatched and unlikely heirs are selected and roped into renting at Sam Westing's Sunset Towers apartments. While there, they discover Sam Westing's will, which cannot be unlocked unless the heirs solve a puzzle based on America the Beautiful, together.

My favorite part of The Westing Game, and many of my fellow fans agree with me on this, is the characterization. The leading cast is massive, considering not only the sixteen heirs but also their families, with each of the characters getting a relatively equal share of page time. It isn't until later in the story that it becomes obvious that Turtle is the main character. Ms. Raskin was ahead of her times with her characters, as well. Her cast's diversity in race, situation, and especially personality is presented flawlessly and without politics.

Also, the plot is full of twists and unexpected turns. I understand this is the case because Ms. Raskin was a pantser (someone who sits down and writes as opposed to plotting the story out) when it came to writing her stories. As far as I'm concerned, pantsing a mystery is a gutsy thing to do, and she pulls it off, stretching your brain but not breaking it with Westing's puzzles. You do have to look twice towards the ending to grasp the entire concept, as Ms. Raskin won't spoonfeed her readers the answers to the questions she created.

Therefore, in a lot of ways The Westing Game is the perfect read for smart middle schoolers and junior high-ers like the kids I met at standardized test. Turtle is the only character under high school age in the entire book, but nevertheless, Ms. Raskin doesn't talk down to her readers. As another reviewer put it (I'm paraphrasing), "Most people write for the kid inside the adult. She writes for the adult inside the kid."

And that couldn't be more accurate.

Rating: Five stars

Recommended reading age: 12+

Favorite character: Chris

Content for parents: someone sets off bombs, possibilities as to how Sam Westing was murdered are speculated, it is suggested a background character committed suicide.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Reviews, visit Shannon's blog here.


  1. I agree on all counts. I adore this book! It's brilliant and an absolute favorite for the last 25 years. The children's lit community and readers around the world truly lost out when Ellen Raskin died too young. :-(

  2. I remember reading this in junior high I think. My whole family read it at that time and we all enjoyed discussing it. This is a great reminder to pick it up again--and introduce my sons to this.

  3. Good choice. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful book. I read it some time ago, but you reminded me how good it is.

  4. I read this book and enjoyed it very much. I read it as an adult, but I can see that middle schoolers would like it.