The Westing Game

The Westing Game Study Guide

Originally, Ellen Raskin, the author of The Westing Game, entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the intention of majoring in journalism; however, after visiting the Chicago Art Institute and viewing an exhibition of non-objective art, Raskin opted to change her major to fine art. After graduating with a fine art degree, Raskin moved to New York City where she became a commercial artist. Raskin was a commercial artist for fifteen years before she published her own picture book, Nothing Ever Happens on My Block, in 1966; she later decided to write primarily children’s books, which culminated in her publishing Figgs and Phantoms in 1974 (later named a Newberry Honor Book).

In 1978, Raskin published her magnum opus, The Westing Game, a mystery novel that involves 16 supposedly unrelated heirs of Sam Westing, a rich, but reclusive businessmen who dies suddenly, leaving his heirs with the opportunity to win 200 million dollars—if they can discover who killed him. The novel, which is an homage to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie, showcases the different viewpoints of the 16 heirs as they try to discover who murdered Samuel Westing.

Shortly after the publication of the novel, The Westing Game won the Newberry Medal for distinguished writing in 1979. For a number of reasons, The Westing Game is a compelling novel that captures young readers with characteristics that are not present in typical children’s literature. The Westing Game, like many murder-mystery novels, features numerous red herrings and plot twists that create a memorable experience for the reader. Furthermore, even though the 16 heirs face off against each other to attempt to win 200 million dollars, Raskin subverts the characteristic endings of murder-mysteries as the characters in the novel eventually benefit from their involvement in the competition. The novel even features elements of adult murder-mysteries such as compelling, well-developed characters, witty language, and unreliable narrators. Thematically, The Westing Game also discusses themes such as greed, the negatives of arranged marriages, and revenge.

The Westing Game still has a prominent place in popular culture nearly 50 years after its publication. In 1997, The Westing Game was adapted into a film version titled Get a Clue. Furthermore, in 2012, The Westing Game was ranked ninth among all-time children’s novels in a survey published by the School Library Journal. The novel remains popular in classrooms across the world, as it is widely taught in English classrooms in grades 4-9.