And now for something completely different. Although I have used my other two reviews this Lent to recommend good spiritual reading (Theology for Beginners and No Man Is an Island), not all of my ACNM reviews are of specifically Catholic or Christian books. I genuinely believe that, although it’s important to put God first in our lives, we have to be “in the world and not of it” by actually jumping into the world every now and then. I also have to return to young adult literature (YA) sometimes, because that’s still where my heart is.
Although many adults shy away from reading books written for kids, most recognize that Newbery Medal winners are exceptional by definition. Dicey’s Song, Jacob Have I Loved, and Holes definitely have crossover appeal. A lesser-known companion of theirs on the Newbery list is The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. It won in 1979, so I almost missed out because it was before my time, but I’m so glad I wandered across it in a real, honest-to-goodness bookstore one day. It’s a mystery that isn’t even over once you’ve solved it.
The premise of the novel seems simple, but it’s a mystery, so you know nothing is quite what it seems. Sixteen people, all residents of the same newly-opened Michigan apartment building, are named heirs to the fortune of Samuel W. Westing. They include a judge, a restaurateur, a doctor, a bomber, a thief, and a bookie—and some of those are the same people. All are competing to win the $200 million windfall as they play the game laid out in Westing’s enigmatic will. But one of the competitors is a mistake, and one of them just might be Westing’s murderer: but who?
The key to Raskin’s book is that she leaves the complexity of her story to the plot. It reads quickly, but not without perfectly spaced clues and the occasional SAT word (I spotted obsequious!) to keep you entertained. As with all great mysteries, the second reading is as enchanting as the first, because you can fill in all the clues as the story rolls along. That bomber keeps the action from getting too slow, and once you’ve figured out what happened to Westing, you’ll find yourself flipping around like a crazy woman trying to find what you missed. Then again, maybe that last part is just me.
If you’re looking for a light but satisfying read of literary merit, The Westing Game is for you. It will make you look closer at everyone, but I’d do it, too, if $200 million was on the line.