“The Westing Game” is tangible proof that good books are still more fun than bad television. Parents, read this book and give it to your kids. They’ll never stop reading. Kids, go to the library tomorrow and check it out.
As an eleven-year old kid I loved the “The Westing Game” so much that I read it three times. I think it was checked out to me the entire school year. A mystery for young readers, it doesn’t read like a book for young people. There are over a dozen characters of equal importance that you must keep track of and dozens of clues spilling off each page that you must remember if the plot is to make any sense at all. But amazingly there are no red herrings — each plot twist and revelation is natural and totally predictable if you’re following closely. Sort of an anti-Grisham approach to mystery. An adult work written for young people, which is rare.
When I finished the book the first time, I wrote a letter to the author, Ellen Raskin, telling her how much I loved her story and asking how I could become a writer just like her. She not only responded, but gave me practical, serious advice on becoming a fiction writer. She new I was a young kid, but she respected my interest and treated me seriously. Her hand-written reply spilled across the boiler plate stationary it was written on, into the margins, onto the back of the page, and on and on into two more pieces of stationary that she must have lying on her desk. This woman was a brilliant writer and she loved to write and she wanted me to love it too. She told me to not be afraid — just get writing! because after “the excrutiating first draft” comes a second draft and a third, and a fourth, and so on until your editor tells you that you’re done. I fancied myself a pretty slick young author and she was the first adult to tell me that I *must* revise my work. Rewrite? Me? I thought I got it right the first time! Revise not just once, but many times until the words are perfect. She taught me about process and that scared the dickens out of me because it sounded like work and writing had always been easy for me. I wrote the letter, hand’t I?
But she told me the truth — writing is hard work. I always think of the “excrutiating first draft” when I’m starting a project. Her words remind me that it is painful but that’s OK because it’s painful for everyone and we all get through it. Just start writing and fix it later. Well, I never did become that kind of a writer. Not even close. I didn’t actually even try, which is a shame because I might have liked it.
I ran across “The Westing Game” at the library when my daughter was there for story time. In a fit of nostalgia, I checked out the book and read it straight through. My nostalgia fell away until only the joy of this great novel remained. I read it so intently as a kid that I could recite entire passages from memory.
Apparently Ellen Raskin died of cancer just a couple of years after she replied to my letter. I counted backward on the calendar and she must have been sick when she wrote her advice. I still have that letter somewhere in the house and am frantically searching for it. When I find it I’ll scan it and post it here for you to read for yourself. In the mean time, acquire a copy of “The Westing Game” for yourself and love like I did and do again.