I am halfway through reading Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a very clever (sometimes TOO clever) mystery starring a plucky eleven-year-old sleuth named Flavia deLuce. While I’m enjoying the book so far and Flavia is a quite witty, clever character, I sometimes find her cleverness a little off-putting. She seems a little too perfect, and I find myself comparing her a little unfavorably to my all-time favorite mystery character, one thirteen-year-old Turtle Wexler from Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.
Name: Tabitha-Ruth “Turtle” Wexler (sometimes called Alice, later T.R. Wexler)
Why She Rocks: Turtle, a stock market whiz and budding financial genius, could write a how-to book about investing money, but she could also pen a book called How to Win Friends and Alienate People if she wished, because she’s equally good at both. No one in Sunset Towers seems to have a neutral opinion about Turtle. She’s either an angry, braided brat who kicks people in the shins when they annoy her, or she’s an amusing little scamp who just needs a friend and a parental figure.
Turtle’s longing for a parental figure can be traced to the alienation she feels from her actual parents. She and her father Jake seem to have a loving relationship, but they don’t seem particularly close, and she and her mother Grace are constantly on the outs. Grace outwardly favors the elder daughter, the beautiful and “perfect” Angela.
This blatant favoritism could easily throw a wedge in the relationship between the two sisters, but in fact, the sisters seem closer because of it. Turtle recognizes that Grace’s expectations are damaging Angela more than helping her, and while she resents the favoritism, she doesn’t resent Angela herself. In fact, Angela is the only person who can tug on Turtle’s precious braid and get away with it; everyone else gets a swift kick in the shins. Turtle is incredibly protective of Angela and actively dislikes her sister’s fiance, a plastic surgery intern named D. Denton Deere. Whether Turtle hates Deere because she knows Angela isn’t ready to get married, or because she doesn’t want someone taking her sister away from her, is unclear, but I get the sense it’s a combination of both.
Turtle’s need to be close to an adult surfaces in her relationships with the Sunset Towers doorman, Sandy McSouthers, and the dressmaker, Flora Baumbach. She and Sandy share a love of jokes and humor and they bond very quickly. She and Flora Baumbach are paired together in the Westing Game. Having once wished to be paired with the handsome Doug Hoo, Turtle quickly bonds with Flora, calling her “Baba,” and finding the mother figure that she always craved. But Turtle can still be petty and spiteful. She can’t bear to hear Baba talk about her dead, mentally retarded daughter Rosalie without having a fit of jealousy.
To talk too much about Turtle’s growth would spoil the ending of The Westing Game, so I’ll just say that she proves herself to be more quick-witted and insightful than many of the adults around her, without ever coming across as a too-perfect, stereotypical “spunky girl” character. When I read this book as a sixth-grader, I zipped through it even when my teacher warned us not to read ahead. Part of my fascination was with the mystery itself and the many, many complex characters, but I also just wanted to be Turtle Wexler. I imagined myself starring in a movie version of The Westing Game so I could play Turtle. At twenty-six, I still want to be Turtle a little bit.