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Sixteen strangers move into a brand-new apartment building next door to the estate of missing, eccentric millionaire, Sam Westing. When Westing turns up dead, the sixteen people are given clues and charged with finding out who killed him.
I swear I read this when I was in fifth grade, but I didn’t remember a thing about it when I just re-read it. But it was a lot of fun. I had a pretty good idea where the mystery was going, but I really think that as a kid, I would have been stumped. There were all kinds of crazy twists and turns throughout.
At first glance, I was a little puzzled as to why this won a Newbery Medal. It’s a mystery with some great puzzles involved, but is it really a lasting contribution to children’s literature? I was surprised by how much was going on under the surface of this book. The sixteen investigators are partnered up in some unusual ways. They learn to move past some of their prejudices by working with someone they normally would never interact with. Even the young, pretty thing shows us why it’s bad to dismissively label someone like that. The only thing that jarred with this message was the serious use of the term Mongoloid. But I guess even that goes to shows that there’s always room for us to improve our views of others.
I think this quote shows something of what I’m trying to say here: “She meant, you know, that people are so afraid of revealing their true selves, they have to hide behind some sort of prop.” Throughout the game, these props are systematically stripped away, and the characters are left to openly be themselves. And the other characters learn to accept them as they are.
Don’t get me wrong–all this serious stuff is going on in the background. The book mostly was just a fun little romp. I think kids will love the mysterious antics, while parents should appreciate the quiet messages being taught. This is just a winner all the way around.
Reviewed May 25, 2009
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Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.