When You Reach Me, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen) or that tie together huge casts of characters (Harry Potter, Criss-Cross), it's hard for me to think of one that really attempts anything analogous to The Westing Game.
I didn't encounter The Westing Game as a child, though it won the Newbery less than a decade before the peak of my middle-grade fiction reading years. Reading it as an adult, I found it easier to admire than to like. The plotting is every bit as deft and intricate as its reputation would indicate; I've read precious few books for any age level that were as careful in their construction. But it felt empty somehow; though the characters were well-rounded, I had a very hard time connecting with them emotionally. It seemed like, given that there were sixteen choices, I should have been able to pick someone that I wanted to win the game. And Samuel Westing himself never fully snapped into focus for me; he seemed more like a semi-benevolent Jigsaw -- a plot device, rather than a real character.
Indeed, the tone of the book -- its full-on embrace of a rose-colored American Dream, its sentimental patriotism, its eulogizing of stock-market capitalism -- seems out of step with the post-9/11, Great Recession-scarred world of today. Its hero is the character who eventually becomes a lawyer, an MBA, and, it's hinted, the CEO of a large corporation, and yet never shares the answer to the game with anyone, not even her eventual spouse (who, it should be added, also played the game). I have a feeling that this isn't the facet of the book that most people who look back at it fondly are remembering -- and maybe I'm letting my personal views overly shape my reading of the novel -- but I found its moral center genuinely uncomfortable.
Perhaps too, I'm simply not the reader for this book. As I've mentioned before, I'm in general a character and setting reader rather than a plot reader, and so I'm in less of a place to appreciate the (genuine) merits of The Westing Game than someone else might be. It reached #9 on Betsy Bird's latest top 100 children's books poll, so there is obviously a large cadre of readers who are suitably impressed by Ellen Raskin's novel.
And, with all of that said, The Westing Game certainly wasn't a bad Newbery choice, even though its year was very crowded. The only Honor book was The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson (#63 on Betsy's last poll) -- which means that the committee couldn't find room for Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar; Anastasia Krupnik, by Lois Lowry; or A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeline L'Engle. I probably would have chosen Sideways Stories, but I recognize that The Westing Game does what it does very well indeed, even if it wasn't a book for me.