I have decided, after being encouraged by my friend Sara, to add a new category to my blog: a book review. Lots of people do book reviews, so this will be more of a book commentary–my impressions of the book, and maybe its uses to me as a writer. Or it could just be a regular old book review. We’ll see.
The first book I’ve finished reading since I decided to do this review was The Westing Game, a classic middle grade book by Ellen Raskin, published in 1978.
Jacket blurb: “Sixteen people were invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing. They could become millionaires, depending on how they played the game. The not-quite perfect heirs were paired, and each pair was given $10,000 and a set of clues (no two sets of clues were alike). All they had to do was find the answer, but the answer to what?”
I’m pretty sure this is a staple book for middle school literature classes. I was never required to read it, but I have no problem picturing my 7th grade literature teacher getting really excited as she introduced this book, telling us that if we read it “abstractly” we’d solve the mystery before the end. As a teacher myself (though preschool, not literature) I can see tons of potential lessons and activities that could tie into this book–like when my roommate read it in school, her teacher taught the class how to play chess.
This is the kind of book I would have eaten up. I would have had a Westing Game notebook and would have kept track of the many characters and what has been revealed about them. I loved getting into books like that–feeling like I’m cracking some kind of code, discovering the secret before everyone else. What the heck, I still love doing that. In fact, the only reason I didn’t start a Westing Game Word file is because I started reading it at my brother’s graduation and because I’m a little behind on this batch of library books.
There are so many characters in the book that a Word file keeping track of them might have helped keep everyone straight, but Raskin did an excellent job juggling all of them. Throughout the book there are snippets of profiles and descriptions that realign the reader to who’s who. All the many loose ends and mini-mysteries are very satisfyingly tied up.
I was a little surprised by how long it took me to get through it. I kept thinking, “This is so complicated–I can’t believe this is middle grade.”
Obviously, I haven’t read a lot of middle grade books, at least lately, because now that I am thinking back, I realize that this is exactly the kind of book I would have loved to read when I was younger (and I still love reading them). So shame on me for underestimating middle grade books and readers!