Thursday, July 5, 2007

Independence Day and the Westing Game

Yesterday when I was browsing through the Newbery winners on hand, trying to decide which one to read next, I knew that I had to read The Westing Game when I saw this sentence on the first page:
Then one day (it happened to be the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be.
How cool is that, I read about it on the same day (well, a couple decades later) that the story started.

The Westing Game was a great read for a summer day (and evening): relaxing, and interesting enough to keep me turning pages, but not so compelling that I couldn't put it down when it was time to go swimming or catch fireflies. And after reading a couple of very intense, emotionally wrenching stories in the last week, I found this mystery by Ellen Raskin pretty refreshing. It's the YA/older elementary kid's equivalent of Janet Evanovich - so I'm a little surprised that it won the Newbery award, actually. Maybe there were a lot of mystery lovers on the selection committee in 1979.

It is probably more accurate to compare The Westing Game to vintage Agatha Christie than to Janet Evanovich - there's no sex, and no cars blow up in TWG. It's a classic "closed house" murder mystery, complete with an eccentric, manipulative millionaire with a ridiculously strange will, and a huge cast of characters (it may be useful to have a printout from a site like this one at The Westing Heirs on hand to keep every one straight). There are numerous plot twists - some really obvious (especially in retrospect, if you read a lot of mysteries), and others that are totally unanticipated.

In a lot of ways, this reminded me of a cheesy 80's movie - something about the tone of the story, with its unabashedly greedy characters - and when I looked around the net, sure enough The Westing Game movie (also called Get a Clue!, but not to be confused with the 2002 Lindsey Lohan movie without an exclamation point) was made in 1997. Ray Walston played Sandy McSouthers and Diane Ladd played Berthe Erica Crow, but I've never heard of the rest of the cast. I guess it was a kind of a forgettable movie.

The Westing Game wasn't profound, but it was fun, especially if you like codes, clues, spooky mansions, and chess, and I'll bet I would have absolutely loved it if I'd read it when I was twelve.

6 comments:

Carrie said...

Followed your link through Semicolon. (I'm just getting around to going through people's reviews!) This book sounds entertaining. Thanks for the review of it!

Charlotte said...

Yep, I read it when I was eleven and absoutly loved it! I read it as more than just a mystery, though--the characters actually change and grow during the course of the book. In a slightly heavy handed way, perhaps, but enough so as to add interest.

rebel said...

I read this book a couple of years ago when my son, about aged 10, did. Very enjoyable book, though I too was a little surprised to learn (now, a few years later) that it won the Newbury.

JK said...

picked this up the other day and so far... not lovin' it. Does not seem Newbery-caliber to me at all, but maybe I'm not far enough along... I'll keep reading...

JK said...

Ok, I said I would keep reading, but I wish you would have stopped me... definitely not Newbery-worthy, I can't imagine what they were thinking. I'll give it the boys to see what they say, but I thought it was so bad my "TeacherDad" review was turning into a rant and I had to read some of Stuart Little to calm down...

AMY said...

I had a great time reading this book. I read 7 times! I don't care what anyone says, it's a very good book. I was so surprised and shocked at times during the book, but it was great to say ooooooooohhhhhhhhh... at the end