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The Westing Game
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Westing Game is an exciting, gripping, and surprisingly deep whodunit about eccentric millionaire Samuel W. Westing, who has gathered 16 potential heirs to his $200 million estate to compete in a mysterious game to discover who among them murdered him. Some adults drink to drunkenness; the only violence in the book (aside from the supposed murder of Samuel Westing that serves as the impetus for the game) is a series of dramatic explosions that rock the apartment building where the heirs are living and a brief moment when a kid kicks someone in the shins. The Westing Game is perfect for middle schoolers or anyone looking for a short, compelling novel.
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What's the story?
THE WESTING GAME, originally published in 1978, is a Newberry-winning mystery by accomplished YA novelist Ellen Raskin. The story follows a wild competition for the enormous inheritance of paper-products magnate Sam Westing, who has set up his 16 "heirs" in an apartment complex near the old man's mansion on a hill on Lake Michigan. The new residents of Sunset Towers are an eclectic bunch, most of whom have some connection to Westing, whether they know it or not. They're all shocked, however, to find they've been named as potential heirs to his $200 million estate, but first they must participate in a game with vague rules and hidden goals, masked in wordplay in his will and revealed in bits and pieces of clues given to each pair of heirs (eight teams of two). The object of the game is to find the murderer of Sam Westing, who's alleged to be living among them, which raises the stakes and paranoia significantly. Cunning, greed, and deductive reasoning infect the game, making everyone a suspect and nobody worthy of trust. There are twists, turns, and stunning revelations, the final great triumph of the mysterious and eccentric millionaire Samuel W. Westing.
Is it any good?
Compelling and convoluted from the start, this gripping mystery never takes its foot off the gas pedal. Every scene contains confounding clues, the reveal at the end is satisfying, and the writing is excellent throughout. The characters are familiar but nuanced enough to seem authentic, and their often-uneasy interactions are a testament to the clash of cultures that occurs when people are thrown into unexpected intimacy with strangers. Readers won't want to put down this page-turner until they find the tantalizing answer to the 200-million-dollar question: Who killed Sam Westing?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the slow but steady revelation of clues. When did you figure out the answer to the Westing game? How does the winner figure it out?
What makes a satisfying mystery? What are some of your favorite mystery stories?
Why do you think Sam Westing paired the people the way he did? What does each heir contribute to the pair? What was Westing's goal in constructing this elaborate game as part of his will? Do you think he succeeded?
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