Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Westing Game

I had heard of this book prior to its selection as our March read for my young adult book club, but not a lot. I think, since it is supposed to be a classic, I was expecting it to be better than it turned out to be. It was simply a bit weird.

When Samuel Westing (founder of the Westing Paper Products empire) dies, he calls together sixteen would-be heirs and, in his will, explains that they will be paired up in teams to attempt to ferret out his murderer and thus win the whole of his estate. His will even anticipates who will retort and what they will say. Most of the heirs have recently taken up residence in the Sunset Towers apartment complex on Lake Shore Drive, across from Westing's mansion at the express invitation of one Barney Northrup. They are an odd assortment of individuals including a restaurateur, a dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge, a handicapped boy and a track star teen. They are thrown together and each pair given four one word clues to go on. It is intimated that some of them are not who they say they are.

At first, the clues make no sense, but eventually the puzzle pieces come together and you understand all of the bits and pieces included in the will. It is like a peevish game of cat and mouse. Although the wrap-up was clever and the whodunit fairly interesting, it was also just weird. I don't know. I didn't really care for the development of the mystery or for the conclusion either. I don't want to give away bits of the mystery by explaining what bothered me about the end, but it turns out we've all (characters and reader alike) been hoodwinked. The feisty youngest character, Turtle, (who is constantly kicking people in the shins) is the one who figures the whole thing out and goes to her grave with the secret. Why? I don't know.

I think the story would probably appeal to young kids because of the mysterious clues and the drive to find the murderer and determine who will end up with all the money. It must have appealed to someone because it was a winner of the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book award, and was designated as one of the School Library Journal's One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century. Really now? Perhaps if I were younger (several group members said they enjoyed it far more when they read it as kids) or liked chess more, I would have enjoyed it more. I'm not sure. It just wasn't for me. On the spine of my particular copy there was a label indicating it is a parent-child book club book. It would be interesting to know what my boys would think of this novel ... if it would intrigue them or if they would find it as weird and annoying as I did. Who knows? I'm not willing to suggest reading it to them.

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