The Westing Game
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The Westing Game is a mystery novel written by Ellen Raskin and published by Dutton in 1979. It won the Newbery Medal recognizing the year's most distinguished contribution to American children's literature. The story involves 16 seemingly unrelated heirs of reclusive businessman Sam Westing and his challenge to figure out the secret of his death. The heirs must figure out who killed Westing by clues in his will.
|LC Class||PZ7.R1817 We 2003|
The Westing Game was ranked number nine among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal in 2012. It has been adapted as the 1997 feature film Get a Clue (also distributed as The Westing Game). In a retrospective essay about the Newbery Medal-winning books from 1976 to 1985, literary critic Zena Sutherland wrote of The Westing Game, "Still a popular book with the group of readers who are mystery or puzzle fans, in retrospect this seems more entertaining than distinguished. Its choice as a Medal book underscores the problematic question: Can a distinguished book also be a popular book?"
Sunset Towers is a new apartment building on Lake Michigan, north of Milwaukee and just down the shore from the mansion owned by reclusive self-made millionaire Samuel W. Westing. (Despite the name, Sunset Towers faces east – into the sunrise.)
As the story opens, a man named Barney Northrup is selling apartments to a carefully selected group of tenants. It soon emerges that most of the tenants – regardless of age or occupation – are named as heirs in Westing's will. The will is structured as a puzzle, with the 16 heirs challenged to find the solution. Each of the eight pairs, assigned seemingly at random, is given $10,000 cash and a different set of baffling clues. The pair that solves the mystery will inherit Westing's entire $200 million fortune and control of his company.
Sam Westing was an extremely rich businessman who made his fortune in paper products. He was very patriotic and never smoked, drank, or gambled.
- Jacob "Jake" Wexler is a Jewish podiatrist, and a bookie on the side. He is married to Grace Wexler, whom he loves, but he also knows that she might never be happy with their life or financial situation. Jake is the father of Angela Wexler and Turtle Wexler. He later becomes a state gambling commissioner. He has 2 daughters, Angela and Turtle (Tabitha-Ruth is her real name).
- Madame Sun Lin Hoo is the much-younger Chinese immigrant wife of James Shin Hoo. She barely speaks English and can usually be found working in Mr. Hoo's restaurant. It is rumoured that Mr. Hoo married her for her 100-year-old sauce recipe. Madame Hoo also steals various items throughout the story in order to sell them and buy a trip back to China. Madame Hoo is the step-mother of Doug Hoo. Although she is an heir, she doesn't really contribute to the game.
- Judge J.J. Ford, an intelligent and serious African-American woman in her forties who rarely smiles. She is suspicious of the game created by Sam Westing. Instead of winning, her goal is to discover the past of every heir. She prefers to work on her own, but uses her partner's ear for gossip to her advantage. Her connection to Westing is that she is the daughter of his former servants. Growing up, Westing would play chess with Ford and funded her education. As Sandy, Westing suggested that he did so as he saw her potential instead of pity as she believes. In the epilogue she is stated to have become a justice on the United States Supreme Court.
- Alexander "Sandy" McSouthers was a doorman in Sunset Towers. That was his disguise, as he was actually one of the four identities of Sam Westing. His description says that he previously worked at Westing Paper Products Corporation and claims to have been fired by Sam Westing himself for attempting to organize the workers. McSouthers is notable for his knowledge of Sunset Towers' gossip.
- Grace Wexler, married to Jake Wexler and mother of Angela and Turtle, is a self-centered woman who is obsessed with her own image. She favors Angela while largely ignoring Turtle. She claims to be Mr. Westing's niece, and she purports her name as Grace Windsor Wexler, although it is actually Gracie Windkloppel Wexler. Grace wants to be an interior designer. However, as the game goes on, she develops a growing interest in her partner's restaurant and the restaurant business in general.
- James Shin "Jimmy" Hoo is a middle-aged Chinese man, owner of Shin Hoo's restaurant and former entrepreneur, as well as Madame Hoo's husband and Doug's father. He claims Mr. Westing stole his patent for the disposable diaper and appears bitter and moody for this reason. He suffers from ulcers, and he can often be seen yelling at his son to study.
- Tabitha-Ruth Wexler, known as Turtle or "Alice", is a highly intelligent 13-year-old girl. She is very protective of her long, dark braid of hair and kicks anyone who pulls it. She excels at playing the stock market. She is very fond of both Sandy McSouthers and her partner Flora Baumbach. She has a slight crush on Doug Hoo. At the end, she becomes friends with Julian Eastman and therefore Sam Westing himself.
- Flora Baumbach is a shy 60-year-old dressmaker who becomes a maternal figure to her partner, Turtle. Her daughter, Rosalie, had Down syndrome and died of pneumonia at age 19. Her husband disappeared, and it is unknown whether he died or if there was a divorce. Flora is kind to everyone and prefers to see the best in people. Turtle refers to her as "Baba," while she refers to Turtle as "Alice." She is an heir because she made the wedding dress for Westing's deceased daughter.
- Christos "Chris" Theodorakis is a 15-year-old boy who uses a wheelchair due to a degenerative muscle disease. He is very intelligent and enjoys birdwatching. His brother, Theo, is very protective of him. Chris's disease causes muscle spasms and affects his speech, but he is much more observant than he lets on – in part because he is often dismissed by others. Chris also develops a temporary friendship with Sydelle Pulaski. Chris is observant of others and is ready for any challenge given, by the game
- Dr. Denton Deere is a 25-year-old medical intern. He is engaged to Angela. Dr Deere is arrogant and extremely proud of the medical industry. He has an obsession with giving diagnoses to almost everyone. He later becomes a neurologist, gaining fame for his treatment of Chris's condition. Though he and Angela eventually break up, they get back together years later and are married with children in the end.
- Berthe Erica Crow, usually referred to as simply Crow, is an extremely religious 57-year-old woman. Tight and introverted, she works as a cleaning woman for Sunset Towers, while also operating a downtown soup kitchen for the homeless. She plays a major role in Westing's plot, as it is revealed that she was formerly Mr. Westing's wife. She was put in jail but J.J Ford was ready to defend Crow.
- Otis J. Amber is a 62-year-old "delivery boy." Even outside of the game, he is often seen with Berthe Erica Crow, in part because he is actually a private investigator whom Sam Westing tasked with watching Crow. He assists Berthe with her soup kitchen. At the beginning of the story, he tells the tale of the bloody bet that a boy once made involving the Westing mansion, which becomes an eerie theme throughout the book, using two words: "purple waves."
- Theo Theodorakis is a smart high school student, and very loyal to his family. He is protective of his brother Chris and works hard in his parents' coffee shop. He is interested in becoming a writer, and also becomes friends with his partner, Doug Hoo. At the end he marries Turtle though they decide against having children for fear of any children inheriting his brother Chris' disease.
- Doug Hoo, son of Jimmy Hoo, is a high school track star, one of the best mile-runners in the state. Running is his passion, but his father often criticizes him for not studying. Doug's partner Theo tells Doug to follow Otis Amber because they were suspicious of him. At the end, he wins two Olympic gold medals and sets the 1500m record as well.
- Angela Wexler is a beautiful 20-year-old girl: fair, blonde, and very pretty. She is considered the 'perfect' daughter, often getting more attention than her sister Turtle. However, people only acknowledge her as an attractive object to be married to Dr. Denton Deere, and not an intelligent woman in her own right. Throughout the book, Angela grows in her independence and her distaste for being objectified. Not that many characters realize that she is scared of not obeying Grace's every command. She wants to do more than sitting still and looking pretty. She is the bomber that causes several catastrophes through the book though only Turtle is aware of this. Eventually, she goes to college and marries Denton years later despite breaking up with him following the game.
- Sydelle Pulaski is a mysterious character who seems to have no connection to Mr. Westing or the other heirs. No one pays any attention to her, so she tries hard to be noticed. She seems to have an affinity for Chris Theodorakis. Eventually, it is revealed that she truly does not have a connection to Sam Westing, as Westing's lawyer mistakenly recruited her instead of a woman named Sybil Pulaski. Also she has painted crutches.
- Barney Northrup is a mysterious figure who sells all of the apartments in Sunset Towers to the various heirs. After this, he is rarely seen by any of the tenants. (Sam Westing)
- Julian R. Eastman runs Westing Paper Products in Mr. Westing's absence. He was a witness to Mr. Westing's will. (Sam Westing)
- Dr. Sidney Sikes is a good friend of Samuel Westing and a witness to his will. Was the one who declared both Westing and Sandy McSouthers (Sam Westing) dead and appears to be in on Westing's plan.
- Edgar Jennings Plum is the young and fairly incompetent lawyer in charge of handling Samuel Westing's estate. Aside from reading Westing's will to the players, Plum has no part in the game.
- Mr. and Mrs. Theodorakis run the Sunset Towers coffee shop. They have no role in the game, though their sons Chris and Theo do.
The epilogue of the story is told in the book's last three chapters, which depicts the heirs growing older and more successful, many of them changing their lives as a result of the game.
- Crow and Otis Amber fall in love and are married, both leaving their jobs at Sunset Towers to work at Crow's soup kitchen, to which many of the heirs leave donations. Both die within a week of one another after five years of life together.
- Flora Baumbach leaves the dressmaking business a few years after the game's conclusion, becoming Turtle's close friend and later Alice's nanny.
- Denton Deere and Angela Wexler both question their life choices and ultimately separate. Denton becomes a neurologist due to his success in treating Chris Theodorakis' disease, and Angela returns to medical school to become a surgeon. Five years after the game's conclusion, the two are reunited, marry, and have a daughter named Alice.
- Judge Ford agrees to finance Chris' education in homage to her mentor, Sam Westing. She is elected to the US Court of Appeals and later the Supreme Court.
- Sunny Hoo never leaves her husband and adopts the nickname "Sunny." She becomes fluent in English and becomes James' secretary in his new company. After he dies she finally takes her trip to China but returns to take up the family business.
- James Hoo leaves the restaurant business and gives "Hoo's on First" to Grace. He patents his shoe-sole idea and becomes a multimillionaire, and moves out of Sunset Towers with his family. He dies briefly before the book's conclusion and is succeeded in the company by his wife.
- Doug Hoo wins his first Olympic gold medal and set a new record for the 1500-meter run shortly after the game ends, and goes on to win two more. Retiring from athletics, he becomes a popular sports announcer.
- Chris Theodorakis is ultimately able to manage the effects of his disease thanks to Denton's extensive research. However, he remains unable to walk and uses a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His college education is financed by Judge Ford, and he meets a girl named Shirley during his first year. The two later marry and become professors at the local university. Chris discovers and names a new breed of parrot (the "something-Christos parrot") during an expedition in Central America.
- Sydelle Pulaski returns to her old job at Schultz Sausages and discovers that Mr. Schultz has a crush on her. She later marries him. The pair moves to Hawaii, though Sydelle stays in touch with Angela. She gives up using crutches to get attention but requires the use of them on various occasions near the end of the novel.
- Jake Wexler becomes unsatisfied with his job as a podiatrist, quits, and is recommended to a political position by Judge Ford. He becomes the Chairman of the State Gambling Commission and then the Wisconsin State Crime Commissioner, though the jobs give him little time to spend with his wife.
- Grace Wexler takes control of Jimmy Hoo's restaurant, renaming it "Hoo's on First" and giving it a theme of local sports stars. It gets rave reviews. The success of "Hoo's on First" ultimately results in a chain of ten such restaurants, the latest of which allows her to work close to her husband in the state capital of Madison.
- Theo Theodorakis attends a literary college, becoming an assistant to the reporter who writes the article about Doug's first gold medal. He later becomes a novelist. His first novel does not sell well, but at the book's end, he has almost finished his second book. Theo marries Turtle Wexler, though they agree not to have children lest the children inherit Chris' disease. Theo and Chris' parents move to Florida after retiring from their coffee shop business.
- Turtle Wexler, having solved the game by discovering Sam Westing's secret life, is dedicated to becoming his successor – and, ultimately, the president of Westing Paper Products. She takes on the nickname of T.R. (real name: Tabitha-Ruth Wexler), attends college early, and makes over $5 million in the stock market. Turtle marries Theo Theodorakis and begins teaching Angela and Denton's daughter Alice how to play chess.
- Sandy McSouthers, who supposedly died after the game's conclusion, is revealed as Samuel Westing, Barney Northrup, and (primarily) Julian Eastman. He becomes Turtle Wexler's mentor, pays for her expensive education, and plays chess with her every Saturday, although she tells people she is "at the library." He dies on the Fourth of July twenty years after the game is over.
- Sam Westing died from old age twenty years after the game (for the "body" of Sam Westing was a wax dummy during the game) and was not murdered.
The Westing Game, adapted by Darian Lindle and directed by Terry Brino-Dean, was first produced at Prime Stage Theatre in Pittsburgh in 2009. The script is published by Dramatic Publishing.
Get a Clue, adapted by Dylan Kelsey Hadley and directed by Terence H. Winkless, was produced for television in 1997.
- "Newbery Medal & Honor Books, 1922–Present". Association for Library Service to Children. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal (blog.schoollibraryjournal.com). Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- Sutherland, Zena (1986). "Newbery Medal Books 1976-1985". In Kingman, Lee. Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1976-1985. Boston: The Horn Book, Incorporated. p. 158. ISBN 0-87675-004-8.