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The Westing Game

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
The Westing Game Book Poster Image
Would-be heirs compete for a fortune in classic mystery.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 14 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Trying to keep up with all the clues and piece together the information into an answer is a complex and intellectually rigorous exercise.

Positive Messages

Though The Westing Game is mostly a fun mystery, it manages a lot of subtle commentary about the various characters and their relationships to one another, touching on sensitive but important issues regarding race, class, body image, and parental disconnect. The participants learn that not everyone is whom he seems, and everyone has something to offer. Prejudice and greed are punished, while teamwork and cooperation prove to be successful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The story contains both good and bad role models, many of whom turn out to be more than whom they initially are perceived to be. The hardworking immigrant family, the long-suffering industrial worker (or is he?), the social-climbing would-be heiress, the treasured daughter, and many more stereotypes are explored and revealed as incomplete caricatures of real, multidimensional people with complicated pasts. There's the successful African-American judge who struggles to suppress fears that she's a token success story or has been helped along the way by her Westing connection (J.J. Ford); the entrepreneurial inventor and Chinese restaurant owner (James Hoo) who's putting too much pressure in the wrong direction on his son (Doug), who's more interested in sports than school; the ever-busy and absent husband (Jake) with low self-esteem because he isn't a satisfactory breadwinner for his wife (Grace), a hypochondriac who fakes a limp for attention; a teenager with a crippling neurological disease; and many more memorable characters, all with different lessons to teach one another as they're thrown into a suddenly thrilling and nefarious situation.


Aside from some fierce shin-kicking from precocious preteen Turtle Wexler, 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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some adults drink to drunkenness.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLynetteS 1 February 24, 2016

Good book

The westing game is a very good book ! With all the different twists and turns the characters go through throughout the book it makes it more interesting . Espe... Continue reading
Adult Written byMichael Loughrie October 13, 2015

Terrible and stupid

Worst murder mystery of all time. This is a joke, I hated this book because It makes kids want to murder people and make a fun mystery out of it. Yeah, bullpoo.... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 30, 2015

Best Book Ever

The Westing game is one of the best books that I have ever read! Aside from the fact that it is a murder mystery, it is one amazing adventure! With all the twi... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 6, 2016

Nadia's Review

This book is a lot of fun to read knowing that it is a mystery kind interests me. I would recommend this book to ages 10 and up because this book is about the l... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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