The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Do you like a good mystery?  I’m not talking about some Scooby Doo, haunted amusement park-type mystery.  A real mystery that you can solve as you read, gathering clues just like the characters in the book.  Then this book is a must-read for you!

I had seen this classic mystery set-up referenced in another book, so I knew I had to go back and read this book.  It is an older book, from 1978, way back when I was a kid  before I was born.  It is also a Newberry Award winner, which is the mark of a book that would be considered to a “classic” in children’s literature.  This book has an AR level of 5.3 and is worth 8 points.  (I’ll talk more about book awards and my thoughts on AR later, but I’ve been providing this information because I know kids do use these levels to narrow down their reading choices.)

In this book, millionaire Sam Westing has died, and his will indicates that he was murdered.  A lawyer gathers up a group of seemingly unrelated people who all happen to live in the same new apartment building, and presents them with the Westing Game.  Whoever can solve the crime will inherit $200,000,000 dollars.  Oh and by the way, the killer is among them even as they sit and listen to the instructions!  They are split into pairs and given clues to work with, but it is up to them to decide if they want to share their clues.  They all interpret their clues and instructions in different ways and thusly take different approaches on how to figure out the mystery.

I did end up able to solve the puzzle at the end, but some readers might get frustrated with how jumbled up the story gets.  The reader is only allowed to know what each team of characters knows, which keeps the mystery going.  It is challenging to keep track of each character’s details, but that’s part of the game now, isn’t it?  You might like to jot down some notes to help you stay organized as you read.  (This would be a great time to use a thinking map, like the tree map, and you can play detective, too!) Reading this book is very much like playing a game of Clue in your head.

Read this book if you like The 39 Clues.  I personally haven’t read any of those yet, but I keep seeing these books linked together as I am reading more about The Westing Game.  Don’t go looking for the solution online— read the book yourself! No spoilers! If you like this one, you might like some Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books, or if you want something harder you could try a Sherlock Holmes story (though the language will be much more difficult because the writing is so much older and more formal.)  This collection might be a good place to start!

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