Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game

June 27, 2014 2014, classics, middle grade, mystery, readalong, Wendy 81

westing game readalong

Hello friends! So nice to see you here for our discussion for The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

Firstly: apologies for being so behind in responding to comments and visiting everyone’s posts last month. All three of us have been so incredibly busy, blogwise and personally, that it’s been tough for us to operate normally. It looks like things will be settling down somewhat in mid-July, though, so hopefully things will be back on track soon.

Also–if you are posting your own reviews of the book we’re discussing, or even reading others books for the middle grade challenge, please feel free to leave a link in the comments! We’ll do our best to visit as soon as we can after this weekend. I’ve read so many great posts on Anne of Green Gables in particular, and have learned so much from the discussions. Having read these books so many times, I really appreciate the perspectives I’m hearing from both those revisiting these classics as adults and those who are reading for the first time.

Without further ado, let’s get started!  As always, beware spoilers in the discussion…and stick around at the end for the July book info as well.

vine-divider-finalWendy: Every time I read this book, I am struck all over again by how intricately plotted this story is–and I’ve read it dozens of times!

Kim: This was my first time reading this book! I also don’t normally read mysteries which might explain why I had some trouble fully connecting with it. I’ve never read any Agatha Christie so I couldn’t say how they compare. I know. Shame, shame…

Wendy: Ah, this might be hard to follow if you haven’t read a lot of mysteries. I think Kate mentioned wanting to try this on audio, and I think that would be the most confusing way to experience this story–so many red herrings and twists and turns to keep track of! And lots of visual clues. But unlike a lot of wild goose chases where the author’s just thrown something in to throw you off the track, many of the possibilities seemed so plausible to me. I actually have a hard time categorizing this–I think it’s considered middle grade, but it’s definitely mature enough to be YA and engaging for adults as well. One of those books that really blurs the lines.

WestingGame5Kim: I had the same thoughts while reading regarding the classification. It had that spunky, juvenile fiction feel but also touched on some really adult themes.

Kate: Yeah, I need to take a look at a hard copy of the book, because the layout in the Kindle edition was a little screwy, and it made it seem poorly edited. You can tell it’s a formatting issue, though. I can’t imagine how confusing the audiobook would be, and it’d make the mystery really unfair because the same guy reads all the voices, so you wouldn’t really notice… you know. I’d wanted to do all our Readalong books in audiobook form, but I’m glad you talked me out of that with this one.

Wendy: Contrary to the implications of that dumb Slate article that ran a couple of weeks ago, I’d put the cleverness of this story right up there with your best Agatha Christies.

Kate: That’s a really tough comparison for me. The author was clearly very strongly influenced by Agatha Christie‘s work–especially And Then There Were None. While The Westing Game is fun and I loved it and I’m going to spend this entire conversation being very, very positive, I don’t think it stands up there with Witness for the Prosecution, Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd… There are at least ten of Christie’s works that I’d rank above this, cleverness-wise, and I’ve read all of it at least twice. Full disclosure: I own everything Christie ever published (yes, all 66 novels and over 150 short stories, plus the plays).

Wendy: Nice stats, I didn’t realize you were such a Christie fan! That’s interesting–I’ve enjoyed some of her books and she’s certainly celebrated as the cozy mystery queen for good reason, but I’ve never been blown away by the writing or characters, as I am with The Westing Game. Still, I’ve only read a handful of Christies, and it’s probably not completely sporting to compare adult/children’s anyway. And yes, the influence of Dame Agatha is certainly there in the overall structure of the novel, setting, and some of the classic mystery tropes.

Kate: Where I think this really stands out is in the area of social commentary and diverse character work that is actually entertaining to read. So many socially-conscious books from around this time are a real drag to read (and they feel like the author reeked of pot 24/7), but this is properly fun and engaging and delightful.

Wendy: The characters are perfectly rendered. I cannot express how much I love Turtle Wexler. She’s so fierce and defensive and vulnerable–and so freaking smart! Man, I wish I could give her money to invest for me. Is this the only book featuring a stockbroker kid, do you think?

Kim: Oh, I really loved Turtle too. I couldn’t even begin to ever figure out stock broking as an adult–and this is a twelve year old! I really loved how right at the beginning of the book she doesn’t hesitate to take up the dare to go into the Westing mansion–right after hearing a super scary story. It told me so much about her character in just a few sentences and I was in love. And she won’t hesitate to kick your shins! Hey, it’s self defense! What’s not to love?

Kate: I don’t think I could possibly love Turtle more. She’s so completely different from who I was at her age, and that really gives me the freedom to embrace everything about her. I love that she’s very bright and into the stock market, but she doesn’t have that Alex P. Keaton business suit thing going on.

WestingGame7Wendy: This book is a textbook example of how to write complex characters and show them for what they are in settings and conversation, without having to info-dump or EXPLAIN things. There are so many different players in this story, and yet you understand each and every single person’s motivations and feelings. Turtle’s uneasily affectionate relationship with Baba is so sweet, and you could see the needs she was trying to fulfill through all the acting out she did. Shin-kicker!

Kim: Hands down my favorite aspect of this book was the characterization. You put it all perfectly, Wendy. It was in tiny things like Chris Theodorakis writing “birdwatcher” as his profession that really captivated me. Or the way that Judge Ford only hands out smiles sparingly. When you see who she does give a smile to and in what situation it’s so rewarding and revealing. Very smart writing.

Wendy: Chris and Theo’s relationship was really touching, and it was written in a completely unsentimental, believable fashion. I love that this book also touches on so many interesting topics, in a way that doesn’t slow down the story and also makes you empathize with the characters. From mental illness to social pressure to immigrant experiences to disabilities to feminism, there’s a lot packed into this short book. Also, all appropriate for the age level it’s written for. This book is a marvel of construction and masterful writing.

Kim: Yes! What a pleasant surprise. I really loved Chris and Theo’s relationship as well. I wasn’t expecting so much social commentary in what I thought was a straightforward mystery novel. I wonder how much I would have picked up on this as a kid. Not much, I fear. I was a big fan of Judge Ford and I especially appreciated that small moment when she reflects on having made an unprofessional remark and how she’s held to a higher standard for being the first black woman elected to judgeship in the state. I was super impressed that such important, and adult, social commentary was included. There was also some casual bigotry exhibited by the some of the characters but portrayed in the way that you understand that character is obviously wrong for being that way. And it’s not done in a preachy or heavy handed manner at all.

Kate: I have a grandmother who is a retired judge, and she is kind of hardened and bitter in the same way as Judge Ford (my grandma is white, btw), so I had a soft spot for that character. I think I maybe had a soft spot for EVERY character, though, to be honest.

Kim: Another favorite moment: When Angela’s position goes from “none” to “person.” There is so much contained in those few words.

Wendy: Yeah, Angela’s story arc is one of my favorites. As an adult, I think it’s fairly easy to see that she was the bomber, but as a kid, it was totally unexpected. I always forget how FUNNY this book is, too! It keeps you chuckling with its situational comedy, as well as its irony and witty dialogue.

Kate: OMG. So, so good. Angela was probably my favorite character (I love, love, LOVE her), and it broke my heart that she writes “none” as her profession. I mean, I actually put my hand over my heart. But then after it’s read aloud, Denton is alarmed because he heard it as “nun” and they’re engaged to be married, and I actually SNORTED with laughter, you guys. Denton is such a wet fucking blanket.

I laughed a lot while reading this. It’s very witty.

Wendy: What did you think of the mystery? Did you guess where it was going, and who the culprits were? When I was in grade school, I’d never read anything like it and was SO thrilled by the whole thing, and honestly it still keeps me on my toes as an adult, too. Just as with horror movies, the mark of a great story and construction is if it can still get you when you already know the ending.

Kim: This is embarrassing to admit, and it might be because I’m not used to reading mystery, but it was all largely out of my scope of comprehension (how sad is this-it’s a kid’s book!). I had no idea where things were headed until the very end.

Westing-Game1Wendy: I think it is one of those stories that you can appreciate more upon a reread, because there are initially so many clues to chase and characters to track. I love, love, love that epilogue. It was so great to see where everyone ended up, and I loved that final scene with Sandy and how she never, ever told. And my young heart LOVED that she ended up with Theo, despite the total lack of interest from both sides when they were young.

Kate: That epilogue. I liked it. A lot. A huge part of why I don’t like books like A Game of Thrones is that I believe absolutely, with all my heart, to my very core, that people are basically good. I think that when we allow our fears and insecurities to control us, we can act like assholes, but most people want to do the right thing. I really loved how once these people stopped listening to their fears and were true to themselves, suddenly all the barriers that had seemed insurmountable didn’t look so bad. I think that’s really important in children’s literature.

Kim: The epilogue was a little too “neatly tied bow” for me but I think I’m just being a grump about it. I loved Turtle’s relationship with Sandy and I loved how she never stopped caring for him. But I did not like how this man just disappeared from his friends’ lives with seemingly no care (except for Turtle). And why does Angela end up with Denton Deere after all? He was a pompous jerk sometimes. I did think Theo was rather dreamy, though, and I’m glad Turtle ended up with him. And also that she was just an amazingly accomplished and fulfilled person. Go Turtle!

Wendy: Oh, it’s totally a neatly gift-wrapped package for sure. I think I would expect more of a properly YA novel, and certainly YA novel written now, but considering the influences of the time and the age group, I rather enjoy the comforting story-telling aspect of it. I was surprised by the Denton thing, though. I understand people can change and all that, but he was kind of a drip who treated Angela like a doll. She could do way better.

Kate: Yeah. I liked the IDEA of the Denton thing–I’m such a sap for shit like that–but I didn’t love it with these particular characters.

Final rating?

Wendy: Obviously, 5 huge stars from me. This one’s one of my all-time favorites, and I never get tired of revisiting it.

Kim: 3 stars. I enjoyed it but I had a hard time connecting with the writing style and mystery isn’t my usual thing anyway. But it’s definitely very smart writing with sharp characterization. I think I would actually enjoy this a lot more upon re-read. Without constantly trying to figure out the mystery I’d be more able to appreciate the wordplay and the construction of the story as it’s meant to be read.

Kate: 4 stars. I wish I’d read this as a child–it would have fit in nicely with my Encyclopedia Brown and Agatha Christie mysteries–and I’m adding this to my list of books to give to children in my life. It’s really lovely, and surprisingly funny.

vine-divider-final

July Readalong: All of a Kind Family!

This is a series that I wish more people would discover. These books follow a family of delightful sisters growing up in the early 1900s in New York, and since they are based on the author’s own childhood, they don’t have that “trying VERY HARD to be historical” feel, they are just they are warm, everyday stories about growing up during a different time.

A few reasons I love it:

  • everything I know about Jewish customs and culture, I learned from these books, and I still long for someone to invite me to Shabbat.
  • they helped instill a love of books in me, because books are entirely precious to those who cannot afford them.
  • food porn–so much food porn! I want to eat my way through this first book in particular, in which Charlotte and Gertie sneak paper bags of candy into their bed and eat them long after they should be sleeping.

I’m going to leave it at that, lest I write an entire discussion entirely on my own.

Title: All of a Kind Family (AOAKF #1)
Author: Sydney Taylor
Amazon Links: Kindle ebook and paperback
Discussion Date: Friday, July 25th
Hashtag: #tmgreadalong

AllofaKindIt’s the turn of the century in New York’s Lower East Side and a sense of adventure and excitement abounds for five young sisters – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler’s shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!

The book is just $4 for either the ebook or paperback, so I hope you’ll join us. I promise, it’s loving without being sickly sweet, and if you enjoy Little House books or other such stories, you’ll like this one.

Also! If you’d like to get a head start on what we’re reading in August, it”ll be A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The last time we took a poll, well over 100 people were interested in it, so it’ll be fun to read it together.

vine-divider-finalSo, did you enjoy The Westing Game? Was it hard to follow, or did you guess what wily old Sam Westing was up to?

Wendy signature teal

 

 

 

 

 

 

81 Responses to “Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game”

  1. Christina R.

    LOVE these discussion posts!

    What you said about the plotting being so intricate and how you’re sucked in while reading and you can still appreciate it is wonderful.

    Love the universal themes!

  2. Ashley S.

    Great discussion, ladies! The Westing Game was one of my absolute favorite books from my childhood. I had (actually, still have) the paperback version with the pictures of Turtle dressed as a witch and Chris birdwatching that you included in the review discussion. It is so well-loved that the front cover actually ripped off and has been taped back on multiple times. I re-read it most recently a few years back, and every time I have read the book as I have gotten older, I have taken away something new. That, to me, is a sign of a classic – that even though a book may be written for a younger audience, you can still walk away with a lesson as an adult. Also, even though I know how the story ends, I still love the clever mystery and the clues hidden throughout.

    Have any of you ever read anything else by Ellen Raskin? As soon as I finished The Westing Game for the first time, I ran to check out The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) from the library for summer reading. I remember enjoying it as well, although perhaps not quite as much as The Westing Game.

    p.s. I do not comment very often, but I love your blog and especially like these review discussions. I love reading your thoughts and I enjoy the conversational format!

    • Wendy Darling

      ASHLEY, I HAVE THAT SAME EDITION. It’s all yellowing pages, though yours sounds like an even more-loved version! I actually have a newer paperback edition too, I picked it up because my husband and I started reading it together awhile back.

      I totally agree with you that finding new things to appreciate about books (or movies or music or any sort of art, really) is one of the key things in identifying enduring classics. And YES. As C.S. Lewis said, “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Man, I should put that button I made with that quote back on the blog.

      I read LEON/NOEL and the POTATO one way back when, but like you, I liked but didn’t quite love them as much as I loved TWG. I should seek them out to reread as an adult, though. Did you know she also illustrated a lot of books, including the first WRINKLE IN TIME? http://www.pinterest.com/ardenriordan/ellen-raskin/ So talented! It’s a shame she died so young, it would have been amazing to have more books and illustrations from her.

      And thank you so much for that, Ashley! <3 We put a lot of thought into our posts and try our best to interact with our readers, so we really appreciate it when we hear feedback from you guys--plus we are genuinely interested in hearing what you think of books, too. I'm so glad you like the review discussions--they're one of my favorite features/formats. :) I hope you won't be shy about chatting with us anytime you feel like it.

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, that’s funny. I can see how this would be a nice change from other required reading. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one!

  3. Thomas

    Love how you guys talk about books in these discussions, it’s like a review through conversation, which allows for shared opinions and additional insight. I haven’t read this before but I’m looking forward to it now, especially because of the social commentary and the complex writing – even though it’s MG, I’m excited for the twists and turns.
    Thomas recently posted…Personal Update: 600,000 Views, 450 Posts, and Ratchet Parking

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, thanks Thomas! We’ve been doing more review discussions lately, we like the casualness of the conversational format. It’s made for some really interesting discussions when we disagree on books, too. (And actually, that’s how Kim came to write for the blog! We hosted a readalong of THE BOOK THIEF last year, and while Kate and K and I had mixed feelings about it, Kim as a reader LOVED the book and chatted with us every week in such a intelligent, tactful way that we asked her to join us not too long after.)

      I’m really happy we’ve convinced you to give this a shot sometime. It’s such a smart story, and I think you’re really going to enjoy these characters.

  4. Kate P.

    I read this when I was in 4th grade and I remember being so intrigued by it! I adored it and it is still one of my favorite childhood reads. It started me on my love for mysteries and helped me find the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books which I soon became obsessed with. I found it a little hard to follow at first, but I remember that it didnt take me long to really get into the story. I also remember feeling so proud because I was able to predict what would happen at the end! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, yay! Glad to meet a fellow fan. I think I read Nancy Drew first (and Hardy Boys, though not as many), then Westing Game. I was OBSESSED with mysteries as a kid, I think partly because there wasn’t as much scifi/fantasy around then, and these were “kids taking control of their destinies” type stories that were different from everyday contemporaries.

      I’m impressed that you predicted the end. I’m still noticing things, even though I’ve reread this so many times/

      • Kate P.

        Yes I agree that the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books showed me how strong and decisive a young person (and specifically a young girl in Nancy Drew) could be.

        Also I’m pretty sure that I didn’t predict all of the exact ending of the Westing Game, just like the over all broader details of it. Still excited me though!

  5. Lia

    I read this book when I was 8 . . . the beginning segment with the dead body really freaked me out. Love this book anyway. Great Review.

    • Wendy Darling

      I love that you read everything your kids read! They’re very lucky. This would be a fun one to read together, there’s a lot of trying to figure out puzzles and clues and such.

    • Wendy Darling

      If you enjoy puzzle-like mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy this, Carina! It was a lot of fun to read again, and I’m glad Kate and Kim liked it overall, too.

    • Kate Bond

      I wasn’t familiar with it before , either, but I loved it. It’s really a lot of fun, and surprisingly poignant.

  6. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I didn’t realize this author was influenced by Christie’s work but, having read this as a young child and having read Christie much later as a young teen, I do admit to seeing a few similarities. While I agree that Christie’s work is much stronger–Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None are just too stunning–I also have to agree with Wendy that it’s likely unfair to compare children’s and adult mysteries. Still, so glad to see you ladies enjoyed this one! :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Review: Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo

    • Kate Bond

      I think I see the similarities more because I had read everything Christie’d ever written before I even knew The Westing Game existed. If you read TWG first, it might not seem so obvious. I don’t know. I think that Raskin used Christie’s format and copied a lot of her style, and did so years after Christie wrote her books, which are the most widely-read mysteries in the world, and that makes me not want to give The Westing Game a ton of points for originality. The mystery tropes this author used are tropes BECAUSE OF Agatha Christie. There’s just no comparison, regardless of audience age.

      I really love the modern, liberal take on the characters, though. It’s so nice to read a fun, twisty mystery that actually has characters that feel modern, even though it was written before I was born.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m the one who compared Raskin and Christie to begin with, so it’s my fault, really. Christie’s influence on Raskin is absolutely clear, so it really does come down to what you enjoy writing-wise, and of course, keeping the intended audiences in mind for both. Kate may be onto something with the “what you read first” observation, too. I read Christie not too long after I read THE WESTING GAME, but it could be I wasn’t as impressed because I’d already experienced something similar. I should try rereading Christie some time.

  7. Elisa @ Leopards and Dragons

    I really enjoyed re-reading this book. It was a favorite of mine as a kid and reading it again as an adult, with children of my own, I still loved it. It is amazing how complex the characters are – how you get a chance both to understand some of their history, why they do what they do now, plus see some of them grow and evolve as their understanding changes – all in the space of a tiny 184 page book.

    My short contribution to this discussion is at http://leopardsanddragons.blogspot.ca/2014/06/the-westing-game-by-ellen-raskin.html
    Elisa @ Leopards and Dragons recently posted…The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the reread! I think reading it as an adult is even more enjoyable, since you catch so many things you might miss as a kid. It’s pretty incredible that she covered so much ground in such a short book–we tend to get massive 400+ page books now that often utterly fail in terms of characterization and plotting, and I wish I could hand this book out as a writing handbook, hah.

      I LOVED reading your review of the book, and thought your observations were spot-on. Thank you so much for joining this month’s readalong, and for taking the time to discuss the book with us.

  8. Rashika

    I haven’t read this book in forever and I’ll admit, I was really worried about how I would feel about it now but this book hasn’t lost it’s charm at all. I actually didn’t remember much aside from the ‘twist’ at the ending so I was almost reading this book with fresh eyes and I cannot thank you guys enough for hosting this read along. This has always been one of my favorite childhood books and while upon re-reading I am tempted to lower the rating to a 4, I didn’t have it in my to do so. It’s just too special.

    You know what the weird thing is though? I couldn’t remember who my favorite character was when I went in and as I got reacquainted with the characters, I still had no idea but when I got to the twist again and got all worked up as I had the first time I read it, it suddenly hit me. Samuel W. Westing is a freaking genius and I LOVE HIM. I love how he just fooled all these people and I had the time of my life when I figured out all the nitty gritty details and connected the dots all over again. It really is quite beautiful isn’t it? I mean this is a mystery I could easily be annoyed off because I despise multiple red herrings but the author pulls it off. She makes the ride so incredibly fun and worth it.

    I also see what Kate meant when she said that the author was inspired by Agatha Christie. I mean my word doesn’t count for much since I’ve only read one book by her (and NEED to read more) but I definitely see what Kate means.

    I also completely agree with Kim about the epilogue. I am always a little weird when it comes to epilogues which is the reason why I was somewhat tempted to lower my rating for this book but I love it too much. The epilogue really is too neat for my tastes… I cannot remember how I felt about it as a kid though because I only remember being amazed by how the mystery works out.

    I really do agree with Wendy. This is definitely a book that can be enjoyed by anyone. The writing may be slightly juvenile but the story is not and the mystery is so so so worth it.

    All that aside, you ladies need to help me understand the whole Angela being the bomber thing. It makes sense but at the same time I DON’T GET it. It’s still confusing me.

    FANTASTIC discussion, ladies! :)

    • Rashika

      (pssst I am pretty sure I made a handful of mistakes in my comment… please excuse them)

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, the somewhat juvenile writing style threw me off a little when it came to the plot and mystery, but I thought it worked REALLY well for the character stuff.

      The epilogue didn’t bother me because this is Middle Grade, and I think there’s more of a responsibility to impart a lesson and wrap things up tidily in that age range.

      I really do wish I’d read this as a child.

    • Wendy Darling

      We didn’t even talk about Sam Westing in the discusion, but YES he is a diabolical genius! What a clever and grumpy old man, hah. I loved the scene when Turtle pedals confidently up to see Julian Eastman, falters ever so slightly at his stern face, and then recognizes her Sandy from the twinkle in his eye.

      I often get annoyed or bored with red herrings, too, but I really enjoyed the ones the author used in this book.

      As for Angela, I think we’re supposed to infer that Angela’s been treated like a beautiful, brainless china doll her whole life, and she was maneuvered into an engagement she didn’t want. The bombing at her shower was a way to for her to get out of that relationship and perhaps be seen differently by her mother, while the previous bombings were done to throw people off track so hers would seem like a random attack.

      I was surprised, but loved, that Turtle knew immediately that Angela was the bomber. And it was touching that she took the blame for it.

      Didn’t tiny Mrs. Hoo get to you, too? The shin-kicker even gave her the Mickey Mouse clock! “Good girl.”

      • Rashika

        I know right? For me he was the highlight of the book. Plus clever grumpy old men are just so fun to read about since we all know they are softies :P I mean look at Sam Westings, he wasn’t always the nicest to JJ Ford but… we all know he had a soft spot for her. :D I loved that moment :D It so so sweet. :’) I love how she of all people deciphered the mystery… she always was a clever kid AND she beat him at chess :DDD

        I always wondered if she was just doing it for the thrill of it because she knew no one would ever suspect her. This ‘good girl’ doing something ‘bad’… and I wonder if… it helped her feel more normal instead of caged in?

        It really was. They were good sisters :) You would imagine that there would be more animosity on Turtle’s end and while there was some at the beginning, I still loved seeing how she immediately knew and I wonder if that changed how she felt about her?

        YESS. I loved that bit. I also loved how she was so proud of Doug and I loved how things turned out for. I think all of these characters are so well developed. I mean there were some I wasn’t always a fan of but in the end they all underwent character development and came out lovable :D I was always a little eh about Denton though. I found him annoying but he did seem to have a heart underneath it all. I only wish there was more time spent developing his character :P

        I’ll shut it now.. I could go on and on about these character :P
        Rashika recently posted…ARC Review: Dissonance by Erica O’Rourke

  9. Emma L

    I really quite enjoyed this book, although I did rush it a bit to finish it before your discussion. I liked Turtle and Angela and I really enjoyed how Turtle looked out for her big sister. I also loved how it ended by showing what happened to all the characters, it brought a smile to my face as you don’t often get a look into the future after the story itself has finished. I do think this book would also improve greatly with a re-read as things would make much more sense and you could concentrate more on the characters interactions, rather than trying to solve the mystery.

    • Kim

      Ugh I know. I’m such a sucker for sister relationships in books. I’m also the little sister in a sister duo and it was always the joke that I was really the big sister even though my big sister is five years older than me! I was forever looking out for her and she was always dependent on me. So I identified. :)

      I’m not always a big of epilogues. I thought the HP7 epilogue was especially treacly, you know? And this one a bit, too. But there is something that is certainly very nice about knowing the “final outcome” of characters you’ve really grown to like. I’m really hoping to carve out the time to re-read it soon because I think I would enjoy it a lot more when I can just concentrate on the characters, like you’ve said. Im rather looking forward to it actually!

    • Wendy Darling

      The sister dynamic was so well done here, partly because it was so unexpected to have the roles reversed with Turtle being the confident one and Angela being the one afraid to assert herself. I loved what Turtle did for her later on, and how matter-of-factly she accepts her sister, even though they are such different people and their parents didn’t make their relationship easy since they favored Angela so much.

      I hope you’ll enjoy the book even more upon rereads, Emma! I bet you’ll notice even more things than you did the first time. I’m still discovering them all. :)

  10. E

    I have to say that I’m kind of with Kim on this one. I’ve never read an Agatha Christie (I know – the shame!) and I think that my lack of familiarity with mystery novels made this harder to enjoy. Like Kim, I can embarrasedly confess that I didn’t “get” the ending until it was all spelled out! For me, I didn’t enjoy the plot line that much, but I did enjoy the characters. They were mostly a little larger than life, but it is an MG read, so that’s understandable.

    Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t enamoured with Turtle. Maybe if I had read this as a child I would have been, but as an adult, her kicking of everyone’s shins and her obsession with making money on the stocks just didn’t make her appeal to me. On the other hand, I loved Angela and her story arc – agree totally that one of the most powerful moments in the book was when Angela changed her status from “none” to “person.” What other parts did you find most powerful?

    It’s Raskin’s little touches like that that made me continue with this book, despite being a bit lost by the plot (still embarrassed by how stupid I am!). I enjoyed the Epilogue, even though I was likewise horrified that Angela ended up with Denton… How can that be her ending??

    Thanks for the discussion – really enjoyed it – and thank you for introducing me to a very different kind of novel that I wouldn’t have normally read.
    E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

    • Kim

      Oh what a relief to have someone on the same page as me! I feel like such a dummy not really getting this book. The characters were so enjoyable, though. I’m definitely going to give this a re-read sometime since I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on a second time through.

      Aw no! I loved Turtle (though Angela was my favorite). I mean, realistically, is that behavior desirable? No. But it’s a spunky middle grade mystery. It needs an appropriately spunky middle grade heroine. I thought the passion for stocks was so charming! So untypical and quirky. I loved it.

      I agree with you completely on the little touches (and with the embarrassment). There was a depth to the characters that I wasn’t expecting for MG-and so many to handle as well. She was really skilled at that. I think I’m just going to make a headcanon that Denton was secretly a really decent dude this whole time and wholeheartedly loved Angela. There that’s better. Now I can fully accept that ending. She seemed happy at least? And she did get to have her fulfilling career, also. That’s super important!

      • E

        I’d like to reread it as well, but until then we can be stupid together! I hope I can just appreciate it rather than be distracted by the sheer number of characters! And maybe Turtle will grow on me… We’ll see. And you’re right that Angela got her career, but it still disappoints me thinking she ended up with him… Poor Angela.

        It’s interesting – having never read any Agatha Christie, I now want to read some just to see how it compares to this! Most people would probably read them the other way round!
        E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

    • Wendy Darling

      I think Turtle really can come across as a brat if you’re reading her as an adult, and certainly some of her behavior is totally not okay. But as a kid, I did a lot of not-okay things too, sometimes because I was feeling defensive or hurt or misunderstood, and I think I understand where Turtle is coming from, given her strained relationship with her mother. Hopefully as grown-up T.R. Wexler, she’s not still kicking people!

      I loved Angela’s story arc–I appreciate it as an adult in a way I couldn’t have appreciated it as a child. As for other moving moments, I was just saying to Rashika above you that I was really touched by Mrs. Hoo’s brief moments in the book, too. As well as Crow’s. It’s so hard to describe mental illness in a way that makes you get a sense of it, but also doesn’t slow down the plot in a story like this.

      Thank YOU for joining the discussion! It’s so great hearing all the different reactions to these books. I’m sorry we’ve had another miss for you, but I’m hoping since you liked ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, you’ll enjoy ALL OF A KIND FAMILY more.

      • E

        I agree with the other touching moments – I liked Mrs Hoo. And the brief touch on mental illness was sensitively done, definitely.

        I will reread it at some point and tell you if Turtle grows on me…

        I’ve started All of a Kind Family (ANOTHER classic I’ve never even heard of!) and so far it strikes me as aimed at younger readers than the books we’ve read so far. Would you agree?

        And when do us Brits get to introduce you to some of our classics? :)
        E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

        • Wendy Darling

          You know, I think you’re right about ALL OF A KIND FAMILY perhaps being aimed a bit more towards the middle of the Middle Grade spectrum than the titles we’ve read so far. This is a classic that’s obscure to a lot of American readers too, so don’t feel too bad! I love it so much that I wanted to get more people to read it, though, so I’m crossing my fingers that some of you will enjoy it.

          Our very first readalong book was a UK book! We read Philip Pullman, and we’ve been trying to vary genres, age levels, and a bunch of other criteria. So far, it’s been:

          THE GOLDEN COMPASS MG/YA fantasy UK, male author
          THE LUCKIEST GIRL YA retro contemporary/50s American
          ANNE OF GREEN GABLES YA historical, CA 1900s Canadian
          A WRINKLE IN TIME MG science fiction American
          THE WESTING GAME MG mystery American
          ALL OF A KIND FAMILY MG historical, NY 1900s Jewish/American
          A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN YA historical, NY 1900s American coming of age

          And how funny, I didn’t even realize we scheduled two back to back that take place around the same time! It should be interesting to see two different experiences (I think TREE also touches on immigrant immersion?) for two different age groups.

          We have such a long list of books that have been suggested by readers and also voted on internally, but if you have more ideas, please let us know! I think we have a lot of candidates that will take us to the new year already, hah.

          • E

            You’re right that you’ve been very diverse in your selection; I think I’m just a little jealous that I can’t join in your nostalgia trip! I didn’t join until after Northern Lights (the original UK title) which is a real shame.

            Yes, it’ll be interesting comparing them, I hope you do in your discussion! I love reading all your thoughts and all the comments, and am so amazingly chuffed when I get a reply from you. Thank you.

            As for other books, I have TONS of suggestions but it sounds like you’re already inundated? I will just say that the William series by Richmal Crompton and all of Noel Streatfield’s books are amazing. And Swallows and Amazons. Sorry, I’ll stop now! Looking forward to the next discussion.
            E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

              • Wendy Darling

                And you’re so clever, E, because as it happens, we have already pre-chosen LITTLE WOMEN for our December readalong! Christmas time seems like the perfect time to read such a cozy book.

                OH OH OH. I DO want to do MARY POPPINS as a readalong sometime, though! I feel as though a lot of readers have missed that one, and that is a decidedly British book.

                • E

                  Yay for Little Women! A friend and I performed a section of for our acne grade, me then in an acting competition, and I’ve always had a soft spot…

                  Thanks for the idea, but I don’t think my blog has enough readership to have any readalongs! I’m happy to join yours though, and I’ll be doing a half wag point post soon!
                  E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

                  • Wendy Darling

                    Did you really? How lovely! I’m very fond of LITTLE WOMEN as well, it’ll be so wonderful to read it with friends.

                    If you change your mind about the Streatfield while we’re still hosting these readalongs, I’m happy to link to yours in one of our own posts and tweet about it as well. This is one of those labor of love things for us, I feel like if we get even one person to read a book they might not otherwise have, it’s a success! But I understand it can be a lot of commitment/work, too.

                    One of the other books that’s been hovering on our list since the beginning is THE SECRET GARDEN, by the way. We were busy with other books this year, but that’s one I would dearly love to do next spring.

                    • E

                      I’ll let you know if I change my mind. And sorry for the millions of typos, I’m so embarrassed. I meant ACTING grade and half WAY point. Oh dear.

                      Looking forward to the next discussion, it’s so much fun to read with friends like you said. Are you doing any thing else this year, or is one readalong enough work? :P
                      E recently posted…Mr B’s Reading Year – The Bone Season

                  • Wendy Darling

                    I’m responding to this comment, since we’ve reached the end of the 10 allotted to a thread, hah.

                    I understood what you meant–if I didn’t have the luxury of editing my own comments on this blog, I would be forever plagued by my typos, too.

                    I’m so glad you’re enjoying the readalongs! It’s been even more fun than I anticipated. And did you mean to ask if I was doing other challenges? I see so many that are great, but I never join them because it stresses me out to keep track of things (even though I would probably qualify at the end of the year for some, such as debut author challenges), so the one classics one here is enough for me! I do the GoodReads challenge each year, though. So far I’m at 56% to my annual # goal, or 14 books ahead of schedule. Are you participating in any others?

            • Wendy Darling

              Oh, thank you for discussing with us, E! We really enjoy chatting with our readers, and I so appreciate that you take the time to talk to us and discuss with other readers in the comments, too.

              I have been meaning to reread Streatfield forever! I remember liking them as a child but have no real memory of them otherwise. We are pretty full scheduling-wise right now (and honestly, I think these things work best when at least one of us really loves the book–we had a rather sad experience in hosting a readalong for THE BOOK THIEF last fall and the three of us who read it had very mixed/negative feelings about it. It was rather awkward for those who loved the book who joined in.), BUT I will say that if you ever decide to host a readalong of BALLET SHOES on your own blog, I would be very interested in joining it!

              I have SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS on my personal TBR list already, but I’ve now added the Crompton book as well–I hadn’t even heard of that one, so thanks for the suggestion. :)

  11. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    I loved this book!! I read it years and years ago for school (same as All of A Kind Family, actually) and gosh, the mystery always got me. Can’t even count how many times I’ve reread it. ;) SO glad you loved it that much, Wendy! And I hope you reread it, Kim. ;) I don’t think you’d regret it.
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…Honest YA: The TFIOS Edition

    • Kim

      Ha you know…I think I really might have to. I really enjoyed everything else about this book. When I told one of my colleagues at the library I gave it 3 of 5 stars I got the biggest death glare haha. Oh no!

      Is ALL OF A KIND FAMILY a fav as well? I’m so interested to read it! And I’d never even heard of it before this re-read.

        • Wendy Darling

          Someone said this earlier on the thread, but I think it’s one of those mysteries you may not be “supposed” to guess the answer to, really–it’s more the enjoyment of the characters and their interplay, if that makes sense?

    • Wendy Darling

      I am excited that AOAKF reached Australian readers!! It’s such a specific thing, and I know even the Laura Ingalls books aren’t as popular in most overseas countries. Asia seems to be the exception to this rule, I think they are big fans of Laura and Anne of Green Gables both.

    • Kim

      Oh please do read it! Literally everyone (except for me–ignore me!) loooovvvvvves this book! I would have too if I only enjoyed mysteries more! The characterization and social messaging alone are superb, though. Do read it!

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s the kind of mystery you’re supposed to be able to solve–it’s kind of more about looking back at he clues once you’ve finished. Although I will say that if you’ve had certain elements spoiled before your first read, it’s a little bit of a slog to get through the first half. I really wish I’d been assigned this book as a child.

    • Kim

      Yay I’m so glad you love this one! And the thought of all those happy little 6th graders loving this book makes my heart fill with joy. Love of reading in children! My favorite thing!

  12. Brenda

    I had my guesses as to the mystery, but I think figuring out the relationships to Sam Westing were the more challenging part. I too enjoyed the diverse characters of the story, humor and the interesting topics that were discussed. For a middle grade book there certainly was a lot to think about. The ending was very touching. Here’s a link to my review http://www.logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/2014/06/review-westing-game-by-ellen-raskin.html
    Brenda recently posted…Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

    • Kim

      You know this is the second middle grade book I’ve read recently that was so much more complex and thought provoking than I was expecting. I must be seriously underestimating them! I really loved the ending except that Angela and Denton end up together. Honestly she deserved better…Still, the humor and social commentary made this stand out for me so much. It’s a shame I just couldn’t appreciate the mystery aspect more!

      • Brenda

        Yes, I was disappointed by the Angela and Denton relationship, but it was so cute to see the braided hair and chess game at the ending with her daughter and Turtle.

        • Kim

          Yes that was so cute! But then it also made me sad that Turtle and Theo didn’t have any kids. Why not adopt then? :(

  13. Pili

    Oh, Wendy! I so adored this one!! I’ll be writing my review today after work and it’ll be in the blog tomorrow!

    This one was a delightful book! I also give it 5 stars! I kept on wishing I had read this one when I was younger! I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan (like Kate) and I felt that there was a bit of And Then There Were None feel to the letters and them getting snowed in, but the author managed to add her own way to things, and the comparisons didn’t annoy me at all.

    I loved Turtle! She was a fantastic character, clever and kind but with plenty of issues that were easily seen as her shin-kicking trigger (I could relate cause I was a bit of a shin-kicker in school… when boys bothered me I went straight for the shin!) and I was very happy to follow her as our sort of main character, even if we get a lot of perspectives and insights about many many characters! I loved that we were shown many different social perspectives and status and realities but never once they felt preachy, that is a fault I usually find on many classics once I re-read or read them as an adult.

    As far as the mystery goes, I was so thoroughly engaged! I had my suspicions and for a while I was right on suspecting who I suspected, but I didn’t guess everything right and was taken by a few of the misleading suspicions too!

    All in all, a fantastic book that managed to shake me from the Ruin & Rising massive book hangover! Thank you ladies for helping me discover this gems! I will be joining for July book as well!!
    Pili recently posted…Friday Reads: Strange And Ever After by Susan Dennard!!

    • Kate Bond

      I was the smallest kid in my class until 7th grade, so pinching tended to be my preferred attack method, and I don’t think I’ve ever kicked a shin, but in first grade I kicked three boys in the balls because they (separately) chased me down and kissed me. Shins probably would have been kinder, but those three grew up to be VERY respectful of girls in high school, so maybe I did the world a service.

      What kinds of people did you kick? Was it, like, other kids, or did you branch out to adults like T?

      And the similarities to And Then There Were None didn’t bother me, either–it would be silly not to build on what people who came before you in your field did. Standing on the shoulders of giants and all that.

      • Pili

        Well, kicking those three guys seemed to have taught them an important lesson, so good for you!
        In my case I always was the model student, having the best grades and all, so my teachers used to sit the naughty kids or the bad boys next to me, so that was my defense method! You could kick someone in the shin even sitting down! As far as adults go… no, I don’t think I ever branched out like Turtle did! ;)
        Pili recently posted…Cover Reveal: Unleashed by Sophie Jordan!!

        • Kate Bond

          A SEATED shin kicker. Well, well, well. That’s amazing.

          I was the same type of student, but we were usually seated by height or alphabetically, so I always sat in the front.

          • Pili

            I had to keep the “good girl” image in front of the teachers and at the same time I wasn’t one to let the bad students bully me, so I had to me sneaky!

            At the beginning of the year we always started sitting alphabetically, but then the teachers always shuffled us around, separating me of my usually buddies and hoping I’ll be a good influence on the lost causes!
            Pili recently posted…Cover Reveal: Unleashed by Sophie Jordan!!

    • Kim

      I’m so glad you loved it, Pili! And I know Wendy will be pleased as punch. She loves this one so much and I know how gratifying it is when someone newly loves a book that you treasure. I only wish that I liked mysteries more. I fully blame my 3 star on my own failings and inability to follow mysteries.

      Wasn’t Turtle the greatest? Heehee happy to meet a fellow shin kicker! Although it did only happen once. Story time? Story time. In first grade one of the boys in my class came over and taunted me and friends with “Girls cant kick! Girls can’t kick!” For fun, I guess? I gave him one warning and said if he ever came back again and taunted us Id show him how wrong he was. Fool boy came back the next day and repeated his mistake. He got a swift shin kicking. And I was wearing penny loafers, man. Those were some serious kicks. That pun was unintentional but I find it delightful. Haha aaaaaanyway…

      And right? It was never preachy. I think this book is sort of a master study in how to put social messaging into a book without being obvious or pushy.

      It’s just a shame that I can’t enjoy mysteries more! I get frustrated by not being able to figure it out and it tends to get in the way of my enjoyment. I wish I could just relax and be patient and let things unfold in their time. But it is just not my way I suppose.

      Hee. Glad this one was able to take you out of the R&R hangover (wasn’t it FANTASTIC?!?) I’m so glad you’re joining for July (and please join for August as well-TREE is one of my favorite books of all time!!). I really can’t wait to read our July pick. I love NYC, historical fiction, and immigrant experience stories. Then I heard food porn? Sold sold sold! Can’t wait to read and I look forward to your thoughts in July! :)

      • Pili

        HEHEHEHEHE! That must have taught that boy to not be stupid enough to say “girls can’t (fill the blank)”!!
        And yeah, R&R was brilliant! Hence the massive hangover for me!
        Historical fiction + food porn is what totally sold me on July’s book!
        And no worries, I’m surely joining for August as well, Kim! I am discovering such great MG books that I missed on during my own childhood!
        Pili recently posted…Saturday Pages: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin!!!

        • Wendy Darling

          Yay yay yay! I’m glad you’re both excited about the food porn. I didn’t even MENTION all the food in it, but you’re going to want to eat so many things. I want to eat them right this minute. *sigh* I can’t wait!

          I’m really looking forward to A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN as well. I’ve never actually read it, but I’ve always meant to, and I know it’s one of Kim’s favorites. :)

      • Wendy Darling

        Wendy IS pleased as punch, thank you. :D :D :D

        I’m also pleased to hear you’re excited about July! I wasn’t sure how people would take to such a specific thing. I’m even more excited about it now.

  14. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    I’m horrendous at figuring out mysteries, and Raskin is much too clever for me. But as you all have so beautifully expressed, she kept me hooked with her humor and her quirky characterizations. I loved this book as a child and was so glad to find that it held up to reading as an adult. A true classic!

    This month I posted about the first book from another great, intelligent author, E.L. Konigsburg — also with some subtle social commentary. I hope you’ll check it out.
    Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted…The Magic of Friendship: Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

    • Kim

      Oh same. I’m usually really bad at guessing all kinds of mysteries and plot twists. Raskin was way too clever for me as well. I wish that I enjoyed mysteries more as a rule because there was much to love in this book. The social commentary was so great. And perhaps even more so since it was unexpected from my end. And even more so that this novel is from the 70s. I would certainly appreciate more like commentary in contemporary MG and YA.

      I would love to stop by your post! I never read any Konigsburg (my childhood was spent reading every single Sweet Valley Twins book instead :$) but I’d love to read your thoughts still.

  1. a tree grows in brooklyn

    […] I related so much to her curiosity and her prickliness and her feelings of isolation–she and Turtle Wexler would make really good friends, I think! This book also contains a girl who wants to be a chemist, […]