Book Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - A Newbery Medal Children’s Mystery Book


At a young age, I knew what my favorite types of books were - mystery books! From Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes, I was constantly reading mystery books. Throughout my schooling, I’d always choose mystery books for reports and projects and to this day, I still prefer mystery books or thrillers for pleasure reading.That being said, I’ve read plenty of children’s mystery books throughout my life.

This article is an ode to my favorite book of all time- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. In my opinion, it is by far, one of the best children’s mystery books of all time! And, it's not just for kids - adults will love this book, too!


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I love this book. I read it back in the fifth grade, about 13 years ago now, yet it is a book that I can read again and again and never get tired of (rare for me, as I usually only read books once). You will have to decide whether or not it is suitable for your child as there is an alleged murder in the book so it may be a bit alarming for some children. I remember being a bit surprised the first time I read it at age 10, as up until that point, I hadn’t read a book that talked about murder. But, there weren’t any gory details (and again, I said alleged murder). So, perhaps this book is more suitable for children in higher grades. Either way, adults and children alike will love this classic mystery! It has won a Newbury Medal and was originally published in 1978, so you may have already heard about it.

The Westing Game - One of the many covers in print.
The Westing Game - One of the many covers in print.

The main character, a young girl named Turtle Wexler, moves into an upscale condominium complex, Sunset Towers, with her family. The cause of what prompted her family to move there was unusual and it turns out that all of the families and residents of the complex were hand picked by someone in particular to reside there for reasons unbeknownst to them (and the reader).

While all the new residents are getting settled into their new lives at Sunset Towers, a wealthy business mogul, Sam Westing dies in his sleep at his mansion, which just so happens to be right next door to Sunset Towers.

As his will is being read, everyone in the room is completely shocked about three things. First, everyone in the room lives at Sunset Towers - they are all potential Westing heirs (very few of them know each other). Secondly, Sam Westing makes a very serious accusation - one of the people in the room murdered him. Lastly, they find out that the only way for them to inherit the $2,000,000 is to play a game, The Westing Game, to be more exact.

The 16 residents are put into pre-determined pairs and are given very obscure clues that turn out to be quite patriotic. The partners work together, snoop on others, and find out all sorts of juicy secrets about each of the heirs/players. Lots of red herrings and cryptic clues make this book a very fun read for even the most sophisticated mystery reader.

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The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Children (and adults) will love all 16 of the interesting characters that are developed with great detail throughout this children‘s mystery book. There is a wide array of characters: a judge, a restaurant owner, an athlete, a socialite, a bird watcher, a cleaning lady, a delivery man, a dressmaker and of course Turtle - a 13 year old precocious girl. Is one of them not who they claim to be? Did one murder Sam Westing? Who will win The Westing Game and inherit the $2,000,000?

You’ll have to read the book and follow the clues to find out who the winner is and discover the answers to the more pressing issues - if Sam Westing was murdered (the doctors claimed his death was due to natural causes), who killed him out of this group of seemingly innocent people that all reside at Sunset Towers? How are they all related in some way, shape or form to the late Sam Westing?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the review of one of the best children’s mystery books of all time - The Westing Game. And, remember - it’s not just for kids! Any mystery fan is sure to love the surprises and twists and turns of this book.

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Comments About the Westing Game 6 comments

Kate O'Brien Wooddell 6 years ago

Thanks for your warning to parents about the alleged murder. Having taught gifted Language Arts 6th - 8th graders for a long time, I realize how important it is for parents to know what topics are being addressed in their kids' reading material, even though THESE particular children fight the hardest for their right to read anything that their absorbent minds can comprehend, and then some. But in regard to The Westing Game, which is also one of my all-time favorites and which I have used as a whole-class class several times over, let's not forget that for whatever reason, Ms. Raskin threw in references to many issues with which our most sheltered children may be unfamiliar...and with which their parents might be somewhat uncomfortable. The building "bomber" was clearly crafted prior to the birth of today's post 9-11 readership. The revealed fact of Violet's suicide decades earlier leading to her parents' divorce (not so uncommon) and her mother decline into mental distress and alcoholism (hence this character's "penance" at and commitment to the soup kitchen) might seem a bit unsavory to some folks. The presentation of the delivery "boy" as perhaps mildly developmentally disabled (with unkind remarks about him by other characters) may be quite unsettling to the post-Americans With Disabilities Act generation. Many folks would object, today, to the occasional use of the word "retarded" - even in reference to Flora Baumbacher's now deceased Down Syndrome child. The fact that property destruction, theft and even adult gambling (Do kids really know what a "bookie" is?) do not get any kind of punishment, and the perpetrators are, in fact, more or less rewarded may also be viewed askance. Finally, how much would children understand when Sandy explains he was fired from WPP, without his pension, for union organizing? And is s J. J. Ford's race as significant today as it was when this book was first published? Yet, as a new resident of Milwaukee County (hence my motivation for rereading this great book), all of these facts support that fabulous humanitarian umbrella under which this story unfolds.

If this is a book about family tensions, human foibles, supportive relationships, games both overt and subtle, redemption, forgiveness, job satisfaction, self-definition and the American Dream, then perhaps it is correct to toss in a nod to gambling. After all, these characters are all gambling on the stakes in this will/"game" and two characters are also gambling on the stock market. Clearly this is not an unconscious parallel on the author's part. If older readers wanted to delve into the hints she has thrown us, just as Sam Westing threw to his potential "heirs," I think we would find a great deal of Milwaukee history, including perhaps, a plug for the then-proposed state lottery: the first African American and female Secy of State, Vel Phillips, here in Wis: a nod to America's 1st Socialist mayor, Emil _Seidel_ (Milwaukee 1910-12, then a candidate for US Vice President), and some very ugly moments in the struggle of Labor organizers against "capitalists" like the fictional Sam Westing, also here in Milwaukee at the only local "company town" in our local history such Westingtown was supposed to be. So the range of her characters doubly astounds me. We may sympathize with Sandy for having been fired (or we may think he deserved it), but ultimately we get past all the nasty accusations made by him and the other characters about Westing and find "the departed" somewhat amusing and endearing. Even though we know that there really was no "Sandy" and therefore no "firing," no real challenge to Labor organizers so no need for readers to "take a side," Raskin still CHOSE to inject that topic in this compendium of human issues. For these reasons, and yes, more that I could go into, I believe a close reading of this book deserves a higher age level than eleven, even if the principle player is a middle school girl.

I think this all goes to support the oft noted belief that Newbery Awards are delivered to writers who tickle these adult sensibilities without beating kids over the head with them. So I always warn my students that I will give them as much depth as they can stand when reading a great book, but that it may take them WAY beyond the simple childish enjoyment of a good plot, sustained tension, a satisfactory resolution, age- appropriate humor and well-developed characters. I love helping them find the book within the book. That is what I always warn their parents about.


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girly_girl09 6 years ago from United States Author

Kate - thanks for your in-depth insight into this book!


john 5 years ago

the book has so many pages dude


icicle 5 years ago

I have to do a project for it.


Murshidha 5 years ago

thanks, i need to get that novel for class on monmday


tinkerbellnavi 4 years ago

Like you, I enjoyed reading Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes. This sounds like a good one to check out! Have you seen the new Sherlock Holmes movies?

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