The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin | The Antithesis CollectivePersonally, I treat books like they’re friends. I mean, they keep me from slipping into a coma due to boredom on a regular basis, plus they take me to real and imaginary places (all expense paid, no passport required). Actually, that’s my idea of a good book: keeps boredom at bay, and takes you places, introduces you to new people, makes you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things that may or may not exist, and places you in situations you may not be comfortable with but you stick it out because you want to know what happens next.

When the Antithesis Collective thought up this “So what’s your favorite book” exercise, the first book that came to mind was Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (others started trying to shove it out of the way, but I’ll keep those reviews for other days). I first met this book at the library in Saint Joseph’s Academy in Las Pinas. Back then, I didn’t know what a Newbery Award was for, and how important it is to children’s lit, so when I chose the thin blue book (it’s only 86 or so pages), I had no idea what I was about to be in for.

I remember finishing it that same night.

I found much, much later that the author, Ellen Raskin, wrote The Westing Game in 1978. She wrote three other young adult novels; she was much more prolific as a book illustrator and as an author of picture books.

The Westing Game starts with Barney Northrup, who rents out Sunset Towers (an apartment building that faces east) to several people, including a judge, an inventor, an athlete, a birdwatcher, an intern, a dressmaker, a bookie, a burglar, and a bomber. Soon the body of paper mogul Sam Westing is found in his mansion and eventually his heirs are called to the mansion for the reading of the will. The will spells out the game. There are 16 heirs, paired up (seemingly at random) with each other, and the pairs are tasked with finding the one who took the life of Sam Westing. Whoever wins the game, wins the fortune (200 million dollars).

The Westing Game at the very least is an interesting and engaging read. It’s funny, it has wordplay, and the narrator picks at the characters’ brains and shows the reader their little quirks and secrets. The tone is light: it’s a young adult fiction mystery novel that wonderfully mixes themes of growing up, and being yourself, among other themes. Among all the characters, I think I identify with Turtle best. Awkward, spunky, and like any other person experiencing puberty, insecure, she grows in the story. One who incurs the wrath of Turtle gets a bruise on the shin and on his or her dignity. She shows softer sides, as a protective sister and as a kid just looking for her mother’s attention. In the end, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a plot or character-driven story, but it is so adeptly written that you’ll come to accept that it’s both.

I guess I love this book because it is different every time I read it, and ten or so years after first reading it, I still pick it up at least once a year to read it. I cry, and laugh, and think when I do. All said, a good friend.