1981 - Children’s Books, Fiction (Paperback)

The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin

Original Publisher: Dutton
Current Publisher: Out of Print
Digital Publisher: Not Available

Reading Level: Not Available

The Staff of YARN writes:

YARN v. The Westing Game: An Interrogation

On 2/28/13, the staff of YARN brought Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game in for questioning, on suspicion of several counts:

  1. Representing itself as a modern classic

  2. Violating expectations and conventions of young-adult narratives

  3. Impersonating a middle-grade novel

The Westing Game will be responding in lieu of its author, Ellen Raskin, who is, unfortunately, deceased.

The document that follows is a complete transcript of our questioning.

YARN: Have a seat.

TWG: Thank you. Ouch, that light from your dangling bulb is really harsh.

YARN: Sorry. Better?

TWG: Yes. Thanks. I was recently repackaged by Puffin Modern Classics, and there can be quite a reflective glare.

YARN: Right. We’ve had a hard time getting you in here, actually, because you’re always changing your cover.

TWG: I have nothing to hide. I’m just trying to keep up with new generations of readers.

YARN: And that brings us to why we’ve brought you in today. We have some questions for you, some of which have to do with your calling yourself an enduring classic. Many of our staff grew up reading you, and have very fond memories of your twisty, puzzling plot, and especially of the character called “Turtle.”

TWG: Why, thank you. I’m delighted to hear that.

YARN: And some found you later in life, intrigued by your frequently updated covers, which, admittedly, are quite slick.

TWG: Thank you. I do love this chic black number from Puffin Modern Classics.

YARN: And some were simply intrigued by the fact that you continue to be discussed, almost reverently, by your fans. You continue to attract a lot of curiosity. Not to mention sales.

TWG: Well, I should hope I attract curiosity! I am a mystery, after all. A traditional whodunit with a crime at its heart—in this case, the murder of an eccentric billionaire named Sam Westing. My pages contain a wide range of suspects, clues, motives, and red herrings. Mystery naturally activates the reader’s curiosity, a desire to solve a puzzle, preferably a puzzle with a ticking time bomb attached.

YARN: Yes, and that’s an important distinction you’re making. We do see a lot of books these days with, shall we say, “mysterious overtones,” or elements of mystery, but you’re saying you’re the real deal.

TWG: I am, indeed, a real mystery. Many contemporary mystery writers whom I’ve influenced can testify to this fact. In fact, I’m straight-up mystery. No paranormal interference. A reliance on logic, not magic. Those books are fun, too, don’t get me wrong, but if you think I’m an easy read, think again.

YARN: Oh, no. You’re not an easy read—even for adults coming to you to the first time, or revisiting you after many years. We did note that readers cannot read you passively or skip over things or even relax. You force people to be active readers. Everything matters.

TWG: That’s my intention. I’d like to think that’s one of the reasons why I remain on the shelves, in my updated covers, year after year. This Modern Classic book cover isn’t just a marketing ploy. I am a modern classic! I remind readers and writers that you can’t be lazy. That you have to stay on your toes. That reading, at its best, involves active engagement on the part of the reader.

YARN: Some people might even say that, well, as a “classic,” you also contain some details that feel a bit dated. Some of us who returned to this book had to chuckle at, for instance, the puzzling out of clues written on paper. Such things seem almost, well, forgive us, but… quaint.

TWG: Excuse me? What’s quaint about clues? Sure, you could rewrite me using, I don’t know, these Twitter hashtags, or whatever you call them. Jazz up the puzzle pieces. Fine. You know what? The mystery would still stand. Mystery doesn’t age. Mystery is timeless.

YARN: Fair enough. You’ve persuaded us of your innocence on that count. We’d like to turn now to another crime you’re under suspicion of: violating expectations of young-adult narratives.

TWG: I object. My author, the late Ellen Raskin, bless her soul, did not deliberately write against any expectations. I am not even sure that there were these alleged “YA expectations” back in 1979.

YARN: Objection noted. But hear us out. You feature a huge ensemble cast of quirky characters, both teens and adults. A lot of adults. YA fiction arguably stays close to the teen characters, focusing on their lives. True, a thirteen-year-old wins the game, but you take us into the apartments—and the minds—of many other people, including grown-ups.

TWG: Young readers are interested in adult characters, too! Adults are profoundly mysterious to kids. Mysteries, or any books, featuring adults give young readers a chance to wonder about those adult lives, how adults got to where they did, what kinds of choices they made. They continue to learn from adult-teen interactions on the page. I wish contemporary YA novels had MORE adults and more authentic adult-teen conversations.

YARN: Well, you do make a good point there. But what about all those points of view? Modern YA picks one, two, maybe three viewpoints at most.

TWG: That’s its prerogative. My author chose differently. Deal with it. Next so-called crime I’m accused of?

YARN: Er, okay. [Shuffles papers.] So, it’s come to our attention that at times, in stores and libraries, you sit in the YA section. At other times, you are shelved with middle-grade or “juvenile” reads. You feature some teen characters, but many modern readers coming to you for the first time are twelve, eleven, ten years old—we even have reports here of a third-grade class discussing you.

TWG: It’s a free country. Am I not able to drift from shelf to shelf? Can I not come and go, crossing age groups as I please? I should hope I appeal to a wide range of readers.

YARN: Yes, but these days, publishers work very hard to market books correctly. And frankly, we feel you may well belong more in the MG category these days. We feel a little uncomfortable about your sharing space with edgier, meatier, even, dare we say, bloodier YA mysteries and thrillers. Like Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers, or Kate Ellison’s The Butterfly Clues, or Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, or Libba Bray’s The Diviners. Some of us just want to know: Are you YA or are you MG? Confess.

TWG: You know what? It’s really not my fault that YA has changed, or “evolved,” if you will. It’s not a reflection on me, as a book, that I am increasingly finding myself in the MG sections. I hope I’m enjoyed by readers of all ages, and how or where they find me is none of my concern. I’m an enduring reminder that we all can enjoy a good mystery. Moreover, I think teens should continue to read me, so I’m perfectly happy to make guest appearances in YA if someone wants to shelve me there.

YARN: Really? You think contemporary teens reading Lyga, Johnson, and others will continue to find you riveting? Should we even recommend you to our astute teen readers?

TWG: Sure. Of course. Look, teens and mystery go hand in hand. Teens are born analyzers. Natural-born sleuths. They are preoccupied with puzzling through mysteries in their everyday lives. If they want a traditional mystery, told in a somewhat unconventional way (by today’s standards, as you say), where they have to figure out human interactions and motives, I’m there for them. If they want a dash of blood and gore, or a more heart-pounding narrative, they have those options, too.

YARN: Mysteries and teens go hand in hand? That’s intriguing. Do you have more evidence of that?

TWG: Of course. Look at how many mysteries are coming out on the YA market now. Some cross into paranormal fiction. Some are historical. Some share territory with thrillers. Some are contemporary—in fact, many contemporary YA authors are “crossing over” into mystery these days, like John Green and A.S. King. I think it’s wonderful. And I’d like to think these writers owe a little debt to me.

YARN: Well, The Westing Game, you’ve pleaded your case persuasively. We’re going to clear you of these charges today. Our verdict? You are, indeed, a modern classic, and you deserve to be read by readers of all ages, regardless of categories and marketing constructs.

TWG: Thank you. I guess.

YARN: We appreciate your time. Please watch out for that dangling bulb as you—

TWG: Ouch.

This concludes the transcript of the YARN vs. The Westing Game Interrogation.

We leave you, readers, to come to your own conclusions, but we hope you will read the book first and give it its fair chance.

Due credit must by given to YARN Fiction Editor and YA mystery novelist Diana Renn for bringing together the staff’s many ideas about this modern classic in this inspired spoof on the novel itself.

YARN is an award-winning literary journal that publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry, and essays for Young Adult readers, written by the writers you know and love, as well as fresh new voices...including teens.  yareview.net YARN was a recipient of a National Book Foundation Innovations in Reading Prize in 2011.

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Children’s Books, Fiction (Paperback) Finalists That Year:

  • Lloyd Alexander for The High King
  • Sue Ellen Bridgers for All Together Now
  • S.E. Hinton for Tex
  • Ellen Raskin for The Westing Game

Children’s Books, Fiction (Paperback) Winner That Year: Beverly Cleary for Ramona and Her Mother

Judges That Year: Not Available

The Year in Literature: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson won the Newbery Medal.

More Information: 

  • Raskin won the Newbery Medal in 1979 for The Westing Game.
  • Raskin is also an accomplished artist. She designed the original cover of National Book Award Winner Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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