When we discussed books that were introduced to because of our children and grandchildren, I had more than enough to mention, so I omitted one.
Actually, I found it by myself because it had the seal of the Newberry Award on it. Also, the cover of the paperback book on the sales shelves of my local library was intriguing: a girl dressed as a witch, someone with binoculars, and a chef, (which I surprisingly did not notice, due to the Newberry seal obscuring him).
I passed it over several times before I knew that I had buy it; I hoped that it would be something for my grandson to read at the time. I decided to read it first and it became one of my all-time favorite books.
In fact, I recently listened to an audio version. It had been about ten years since I read the book, and although I remembered it, (it had made quite an impact on me), after listening to it I said to The Husband, “I knew that I loved the book, but I forgot just how much and why”.
“The Westing Game” was published in 1977 and won The Newberry Prize in 1978.
After I first read it I wanted to see if I could contact the author, Ellen Raskin, but I found that she died in 1984 at the early age of 56, of an autoimmune disease to which I am all-too-familiar. I have not (yet) read her other works, but I have no idea why; I imagine that I will try to rectify that soon.
The Westing Game is what we’d now call Pre-YA or Middle-Grade, but it is complex. I don’t want to give spoilers because I cannot recommend this book strongly enough to everyone and the reader should enjoy every word, every turn of events.
It is written subtly and cleverly, and even with remembering every plot twist,( each of which make sense), I enjoyed the audiobook every bit as much as when I read the paperback.
Young people today might not ‘get’ how life was before cell phones, which would have changed how events unfolded, but with the characters and the plots, it would be possible to update this, and I hope no one does, since Ms. Raskin is not here to do it herself. (I just read that they ‘adapted it’ and made a movie “Get a Clue” in 1997; I will never watch it.)
We are told at the beginning that all is not as it seems; in fact, very first character that is introduced to the reader is said upfront that he is not who he seems to be, and the name he is using is not real. The character delivers six offers for only six apartments available in a building, each of which is perfect for the would-be tenants at prices that seem too low to be true. As if that were not enough to bring them in, there is office space for the doctor, a study for the judge, a diner on the ground floor for one family to run, and a restaurant on the top floor for another family’s business. There are subplots and relationships between the heirs that are incredibly well-written into such a short book,
it is amazing.
The main difference to today, besides the cell phones and lack of security cameras, is the money which is considerably more than it would seem today, being in 1978 dollars. Also, at one point, our protagonist, a young teen called “Turtle”, uses Bourbon for her toothache and the woman judge puts some on cotton for her when she needs more. (That would never play these days). Also, Turtle starts out as a kicker who hit the shins of a lot of people before things conclude, and that would never be acceptable in a book today.
Before you get the wrong idea, this was another time. You care right away about the young teen and as she learns about herself, we learn about her and all ends well, better than well. That is the biggest spoiler I will give.
This is a real ‘feel-good’ book even though it is about a mystery surrounding a murder.
The apartments face a hill with the beautiful, if rundown, old home of a millionaire with a checkered reputation. When he died, (or was murdered), the tenants and two others are mentioned in his will, much to their surprise. Few of them are aware of any connection to the man and although they are given ten-thousand dollars along with clues, with his entire estate of two-hundred million is up for grabs.
That is still a lot of money.
The attitude of and about Turtles older, pretty sister also may seem archaic, but I know that such expectations are still alive and well among many strata of society, i.e., immigrant families, the wealthy, and those who are social climbers, (which Turtle’s mother tends to be).
The messages in the book is subtle, yet addresses such deep topics as marriage, the handicapped, racism, social climbing, why people do what they do, how even the best can fall, how even those who did evil can do good. Everyone faces the worst of themselves and the best. Family is most important, doing the right thing is stressed to be all-important.
I loved the endings.
Yes, I said, ‘endings’.
The first ending comes, ( I believe) six months, after the start of the story;
the second ending is told after five years,
the third ending is twenty years later,
and they are all wonderful.
I don’t know what inspired Ellen Raskin to make up this story, except that the millionaire’s house was inspired by a historic house that had seen better days that she and her husband purchased.
I wish that I could tell her how much the story means to me, but, along with C. S. Lewis and others, I hope they know from the Beyond, and I hope to tell them in person when I get ther
If you do not know the book, I wish that you will take the time for it. It’s only 224 pages in paperback, or you can read it online here: https://books-library.net/files/books-library.online-01080951Tc9R1.pdf , or you can hear it in audio versions on YouTube, where several readers are available to choose from, depending on your taste.
If you know this book, tell me what you think, if you don’t, please give it a try when you can.