Saturday, March 4, 2023

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin


This is basically Knives Out for the middle grade set. I remember reading it a long time ago and finding it a challenging but enjoyable read. One of the most fascinating things about this book is that even though it's for children, a lot of the characters are quite old (50s and 60s) but the author manages to capture their quirks in a way that children will be able to grasp and understand but that doesn't alienate or condescend to an older audience. When people trot out the "but it's for kids" defense when an adult YA reader says a book is stupid, I don't think they realize how utterly insulting that sounds. Kids are far smarter than writers sometimes give their young audiences credit for. Hence the enduring popularity of this book.

THE WESTING GAME has so many layers. A multi-millionaire dies. A bunch of randos move into a new apartment across from his estate. Only it turns out that they aren't randos after all, when every one of them is called to a will reading-cum-puzzle game. Mr. Westing is dead and he's orchestrated a game from beyond the grave to point the finger at the person responsible for ending his life. When people talk about fuck-you money, this is what they mean. Going all Willy Wonka by way of John Wick to get revenge on the people who wronged you. THAT is money.

I loved all the snide little asides and jokes in this book. So many of them flew over my head as a kid (one of the characters thinking "dastardly" means bastard, or why Mr. Hoo rolls his eyes so hard at Mrs. Wexler's microaggressions). Also, the diversity in this book is pretty incredible considering when it was published. There's a Greek family, a Black judge, a boy with a degenerative disease who uses a wheelchair (I feel like what he has is supposed to be like MS), and a Chinese family. The book discusses some pretty serious issues, such as struggling against parental expectations or making difficult moral choices, and took quite a few risks that really paid off.

Every time I read the end of this book, I get a little misty-eyed. It's perfect. The book has its flaws, but for what it does, it's pretty brilliantly done and honestly has some amazing plotting and twists. This is the sort of YA that gets better with age, that both children and their parents will enjoy. Love.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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