1979: The Westing Game (Neighbors, Games, and Murder)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

The Westing Game, the 1979 Newbery Medal Winner, is the story of how Samuel Westing disposed of his fortune by gathering together a group of people and making them compete. While the pacing keeps it fairly readable, the plot and characters failed to draw me in. I love flawed characters, but I found nearly all of these tediously venial and unengaging.

Samuel Westing, reclusive millionaire, stealthily draws together a group of people, most of them tied to him in some way, by offering them apartments in a newly constructed building. They run the gamut in age, occupation, and personality. A judge, a girl fond of kicking others, a podiatrist, multiple restaurateurs, and various others comprise the group. Shortly thereafter, Westing “dies”, leaving clues with an attorney and instructing the chosen people to solve his murder. Shenanigans ensue, including a theft and a few bombings. Officially, the mystery is declared unsolved, but each participants is given a modest amount of money. Turtle Wexler, champion shin-kicker and biological relative of Westing, manages to solve the riddle; she figures out that Westing has taken on four direction-based aliases over the course of the game and seeks him under the final name. She conceals her win from the others but becomes close with Westing, caring for him when he finally does sicken and die.

What I did like: the book has a great take on what-you-see-isn’t-what-you-get, or the importance of looking beneath the surface of people. One of the major plot twists is that Samuel Westing had disguised himself and was living among the other members of the game. Turtle wins by working that out. Angela, virginal bride-to-be, known solely for her engagement to a plastic surgery intern, was really the one who set bombs in the apartment complex; she also had the brains and desire to be a doctor in her own right. It’s a kids book, so, of course, Angela gets to break her engagement and finish her education, before marrying the guy to whom she was originally engaged.

This isn’t a terrible Newbery read. It still trumps many of the earlier Newbery winners. It is a fast read, with occasional interesting turns of phrase. However, there just wasn’t anything that grabbed me and made me want to keep reading. I worked on the book for an ENTIRE week before finally sucking it up and taking it home to finish. The Westing Game would be a fun book for kids that enjoy riddles and mysteries, as it’s very focused on solving clues. The 1970’s have been full of genuinely excellent Newbery entries, though, so I recommend most people read one of those instead.


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