Book #37: “The Westing Game”

Fast Facts:

Book Title: The Westing Game

Author: Ellen Raskin

Genre/Audience: Mystery, detective; children

Rating: 7.5/10

Worth the read?: Yes, but it definitely read better when I was younger.

Some years ago, my fifth grade school counselor recommended that I read The Westing Game because of my love for Nancy Drew and, frankly, my distaste for nearly everything else. When I read it the first time more than a decade ago, I adored it. I stored it away in my head as “one of the best books from my kid years” and looked forward to sharing it with my own kids someday.

On a particularly beautiful day in the last week before classes, I hung my hammock at my favorite spot on campus and settled in for a breezy afternoon of reading. In the few hours I swayed in the breeze, I made it all the way through The Westing Game.

For as much as I had loved the book when I was a kid, I retained remarkably little of its content. I remembered the general premise that an old, rich businessman dies and leaves his fortune to whoever can win his game, but every other detail that I stored away was wrong, wrong, and more wrong. It made for quite a bumpy ride because the whole time I kept thinking, “Wait, really? Are you sure that’s right?” and, as a result, my enjoyment was lessened. It took me almost 60 pages to become fully invested, and the last 20 pages were rushed, as I had guzzled a lot of water and was too far away from a restroom for convenient pausing. (Hammock probs.)

I was a little let down. Maybe I was in the wrong mindset that day or projected too much of my false memory onto its pages. I don’t think that my childhood love was unjustified, as I rarely enjoyed books back then and to have found one I thought worthy of remembering forever was no small deal. I think I’ll wait a while (a year or two) to give it another go; I refuse to accept that my feelings for it have changed so strongly from love to “meh.”

The book is incredibly clever in premise and conclusion, and there is a lot of action packed into its pages. There are red herrings, false confessions, and even some explosions. The characters are diverse in age, background, vocation and culture, and Mr. Westing’s game is unlike any other. It seems unbeatable, perhaps is unbeatable, to all except the winner. It’s no wonder I’ve loved this book for years.

So why did I feel let down?

I can’t really pinpoint moments that disappointed me. It did feel like the last 30 pages dragged on and on, but I’m about 112 percent sure that had nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the amount of water I’d consumed.

I struggled to keep the characters in order. It seemed like 16 people were entirely too many to juggle and resulted in a shallowness about most of them because there was simply no time to get to know them. To a degree, this is important to the plot, but the resolution still could have been achieved with fewer characters.

Admittedly, it was exciting to see the accusations fly and guess about the many secrets that were inevitably revealed. The closer I got to the end, the more I recalled. But the more I recalled, the more frustrated I was with all of the characters.

I believe that The Westing Game is a much better book than is reflected by this review. My 5th-grade self hoisted this story up on a pedestal, and young reader Nikki has never let me down before. I have recommended this book to people for years, and I’ll continue to do so. After all, they don’t hand out Newbery Medals to just any children’s book.

Better luck on the next go-round, I hope!