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Persephone Book Club: The Westing Game Pt. 2

Hello, my especially bookish friends! Happy Thursday! It’s the second week of our discussion on The Westing Game, so today we’ll be covering the basics, getting to know the author a little better, and starting to break up into groups for the Big Surprise Project (BSP). 

Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as intense as my Harry Potter questions – I gave myself a talking to about how to make a book club more fun than school. Yes, I was the girl who always raised her hand and asked for extra credit.  Yes, you can have my lunch money.

First things first, I need to know how many of you are reading along and want to participate in the BSP. I need enough people to make at least three groups of at least three people per group. It’s OK if you’re not reading along right now, but knowing the plot will help you in the BSP. So, if you’re game, tell me in the comments, a PM, or drop me an e-mail (selena {at} persephonemagazine.com) You’ll be able to work with your groups in your own private forums, which I’ll set up as soon as I know how many of you there are.

Second things second, let’s talk about the book!

The Plot

Samuel Westing, a shrewd, complicated, enigmatic millionaire, is dead. The carefully selected tenants of Sunset Towers are all mentioned in his will and must work together to uncover their own secrets and the secrets hidden in Westing’s will.

The Characters

2C ~ Flora Baumbach, seamstress

2D ~ Mr. and Mrs. Theodorakis, coffee shop owners; their sons Theo, brother, and Chris, birdwatcher

3C ~ Sydelle Pulaski, stenographer

3D ~ Dr. Jake Wexler, podiatrist; Grace Windsor (Windkloppel) Wexler, his wife; their daughters Angela, bride-to-be, and Turtle, witch.

4C ~ James Shin and Sun Lin Hoo, restauranteurs; their son Doug, track star

4D ~ J.J. Ford, judge

Edgar Jennings Plum, lawyer

Dr. D. Denton Deere, Angela’s fiance

Alexander McSouthers, doorman

Berthe Erica Crow, repenting

Otis Amber, deliverer

Barney Northrup, real estate agent

Big Ideas

The main event in The Westing Game is the reading of Samuel Westing’s will, which reveals a giant mystery, created with extremely clever (for the late elementary audience towards whom it is aimed, at least) word play and some red herrings I think would throw me if I read the book for the first time as an adult. In addition to that delightfully woven whodunit, however, is a great story about class, race, and human nature. The cast of characters is diverse, and while at times there is a twinge of stereotyping (most notably in the portrayal of the Hoos) all of the characters are well-rounded and complex.

The Westing Game passes the Bechdel test (Are there more than two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man?) with flying colors. The protagonist, Turtle, is strong-willed, courageous, and very, very smart.

The Author

Ellen Ermingard Raskin (March 13, 1928 ““ August 8, 1984) was a writer, illustrator, and fashion designer from Wisconsin, who’s worthy of her own Badass Ladies of History post in the near future.

Ellen Raskin wrote several books aimed at the late elementary/early middle school set, including The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues and Figgs & Phantoms. All of her work was marked by her unique blend of gentle slapstick humor and lots of wordplay. Personally, I didn’t enjoy her other books nearly as much as I did The Westing Game, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved any book as much as I loved The Westing Game the first time I read it.

Most of Raskin’s published books, both for younger children and her novels for older kids, received awards and accolades. The Westing Game won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction (1978), Library of Congress Children’s Book (1978), ALA Notable Children’s Book (1978), Banta Literary Award (1979), Horn Book Fanfare (1979), and the Newbery Medal (1979).

Source: Notable Wisconsin Writer Ellen Raskin

Read Pt. 1 of the Persephone Book Club series on The Westing Game.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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