Ellen Raskin's 'The Westing Game' Taught Us These 12 Life Lessons, Because You Should Never Judge a Book By Its Cover
For some, "America the Beautiful" is a patriotic gem, a song that celebrates the sheer beauty of a land that's as geographically diverse as it is free, boasting majestic mountains and amber plains along with liberty. But for longtime fans of Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game, it's (spoiler alert!) the means to a $200 million end. Because as anyone who ever picked up the author's 1979 Newbury Award-winning novel knows, it's simply impossible to turn the last page and not be attached to every detail of the book for the rest of your life.
It's been 20 years since I first read the book, and still I can reference more paragraphs, characters, and even lines from The Westing Game than from the last 20 books I read. Read The Westing Game, and, suddenly, turtles, braids, and, of course, purple waves will forever take on new meanings. (Though, admittedly, if you had a prior association for "purple waves," I'd love to see where you have been vacationing, because huh?)
And I'm as ecstatic as a Doug Hoo on race day that I do recall The Westing Game in such great detail, because it offered its young readers lessons to take well into adulthood. And I'm not even talking about the lesson that the sun sets in the west, even if Sunset Towers faced east. (Too embarrassing to admit I learned this detail as a 9-year-old reading The Westing Game? Oh well, just did.) No, just from one reading of The Westing Game, you could find several of these life lessons planted in its text — so long as, like Turtle, you knew what you were looking for.
Don't Set a 5-Year Plan
Hell, don't even set a five-minute plan. Just take a page from Raskin herself, who, according to friend and author Ann Durell, "invented that incredibly complex plot of clues within clues" as she wrote the book. Yes, that's right — Ellen Raskin never planned ahead while writing The Westing Game, and instead came to its conclusion at the same time its readers did. And that's exactly what gave the book its unpredictability and joie de vivre. And shouldn't our lives all be a little more unpredictable and filled with joie de vivre?
A Book Should Never Be Judged By Its Cover
Including this one. When I first picked up The Westing Game, with its original cover, I expected a snooze-worthy read — a book more fit for my father's bedside table filled with thrillers than a fun book for kids. Where were the light-hearted illustrations? The bright colors that typically accompany exciting children's books? But The Westing Game didn't need any frivolous distractions. Though outside might have seemed dull and dark, but what was inside was a light-hearted 200 pages with personality that leapt off the page better than any by-the-book illustration. The same could be said of all of The Westing Game's characters, all of whom were nothing like they seemed: Grace Wexler is a fun-loving business whiz hiding inside an appearance-obsessed housewife; Otis Amber is a crafty private investigator hiding inside a goofy delivery man; and Sandy McSouthers is... well, you know exactly who he is.
Always Take Notes
Not only will it set you up for (almost) success, as Sydelle Pulaski learned, but it will also make you more popular, as Sydelle Pulaski learned. (But don't share those notes with others too sleepy to bother doing it themselves, as Sydelle Pulaski learned.)
Bridal Showers Are the Worst
All the gifts, the unwanted attention, and did we mention the gifts? It's no wonder Angela Wexler was anything but stoked to receive packages upon packages from a group of people who associated her more as a bride than a human being. #WhyEveryoneShouldElope
Don't Play With Fireworks
And while we're on the subject of bridal showers... kids, don't play with fireworks. Though they can swiftly end a perfectly heinous bridal shower, they also can burn you, and your sister's beloved braid.
Make Unlikely Friends
Westing's heirs might have dreaded their partners — pretty and perfect Angela with the attention-seeking Sydelle; serious and impatient Mr. Hoo with the social-climbing Grace; time-strapped Dr. Deere with the stuttering Chris — The Westing Game proved that conflicting relationships might only lead to fruitful relationships. Sydelle helped Angela realize her value beyond her fiancé; Grace helped Mr. Hoo create a flourishing business, and Dr. Deere helped improve Chris' condition — while Chris taught him that patients are often brighter than their doctors. Not only should we not judge a book by its cover, but we should also give every book a chance.
Your Imperfections Will Make You Memorable
Sydelle's crutches, Sandy's chipped tooth, Turtle's messy braid... all physical traits that are described fondly throughout the course of Raskin's novel. Striving for perfection only leads to misconceptions about you and your character, as both Grace and Angela Wexler learned. Because, really, nobody's perfect. And that's a good thing.
Simply, Be Yourself
Why attempt to transform yourself into the ideal image of a doting bride, when you are simply just seeking independence? Why attempt to make others think you're far richer and high society than you are, when in the end you're happiest swigging a few drinks and laughing with family? The Westing Game proved it's far, far more fun and fulfilling to stay true to your character. Even if Sam Westing had a great time playing four.
Success Requires Patience
Doug Hoo was always primed for success at a young age — what with the way his legs allowed him to stalk the likes of Otis Amber — so it was hardly surprising to read that the character won several Olympic gold medals just years after The Westing Game ended. More surprising was watching his best friend, Theo Theodorakis, toiling away, sharpening pencils at a low-level journalism job while his buddy scored international fame. But just pages later, we learn that Theo had chased his dream to become a novelist, after several hard-earned years in journalism. We might not all be able to run as fast on the path to success as Doug, but hard work and patience can lead to the greatest victory of all: happiness.
You Will Outgrow Childhood Insults
Though, in some ways, it's slightly disappointing that a book as unconventional as The Westing Game would choose to make such a conventional decision as having the awkward Turtle grow into a gorgeous young woman. Must her success in playing The Westing Game also come with a stereotypical ugly duckling story? Couldn't Turtle grow up to be just as sharp as she was as a youth, and just as awkward? Still, it wasn't just her looks that allowed her to escape the taunts she received as a kid, but her maturity and intelligence. The Westing Game presents a true revenge of the nerds scenario — the smartest among us will undoubtedly outgrow insulting nicknames like Turtle to become astonishingly successful, like professional T.R.
Endings Can Never Be Completely Happy
Yes, the end of The Westing Game saw Turtle as a multimillionaire, Angela as a woman who discovered her independence and herself, and Doug as an Olympian, but not everything was tied together in a Grace-approved perfect bow. Though we saw Turtle as a happily married woman, we also heard about her and husband Theo's decision to not have kids, so as to not risk passing on Chris' disease. Though we previously saw Otis and Berthe form a happy union in an heir-approved wedding, we also learned pages later that the couple had passed away not too long after. And although Mr. Hoo had escaped his dreaded restaurant to become a successful inventor, we also found out that he, too, didn't live long enough to make the final pages of The Westing Game. Oh yeah, and Westing, or Sandy, himself died too... for real this time. Yet, the ending gave young readers, normally used to stories that told us everything ends "happily ever after," a glimpse into what their future will really hold — their loved ones will eventually see the sun set in the west for a final time. Endings might not be happy, but that's OK — so long as a life lived is.
Buy Westing Paper Products!
Wise old Uncle Sam wanted his heirs to play the stock market — and Turtle and Flora came as close to anyone at winning the Westing Game by pocketing some serious cash investing in the company. So, come on kids — close your Instagram and open your Bloomberg app. You can buy a lot more iPhones should you play the stock market correctly!
Never Fall For the Queen's Sacrifice
But if you do, don't feel too bad — Judge Ford did as well. Twice.