The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
The promotional blurbs for this book compare it favorably to the work of J. K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Blue Balliett, and Lemony Snicket. That combination of names, together with the cover art by Carson Ellis, intrigued me enough to buy the book. But within the first few pages it outstripped all my expectations. Attention! I hereby officially anoint this book my "highest recommendation of the year."
Yes, I know there's a lot of year left at this writing. Trust me, if I read anything that makes me change my mind between now and Christmas, I will be very, very happy. Why? Because it would have to be a very, very enjoyable book to give me as much pleasure as this children's novel by an Arkansas-based author whose only previous book (Flood Summer) is for adults.
Why do I like this book so much? Because, for starters, it has a hero who goes right to my heart. Reynie Muldoon lives in an orphanage. And his trouble isn't that it's a particularly nasty orphanage, but that he simply doesn't fit in with the other kids. Reynie, though he is too modest to say so himself, is a gifted child. When his beloved tutor, Ms. Perumal, spots an advertisement inviting gifted children to try out for "special opportunities," she pushes him to take the test. It turns out to be a very odd test that only Reynie and three other kids pass, and you couldn't imagine three kids more different from Reynie and each other. Clearly, if they all passed the same test, it must be an odd test indeed - one whose nature the children only slowly come to understand.
Who are these other kids? (Why is this review starting to feel like a test?) First there is Kate, a daring, active girl who ran away to the circus at an early age. Then there is Sticky, a highly intelligent but insecure runaway. Finally, there is Constance who, whatever her gift may be, has a huge problem with authority. These four widely different children, who have only just met each other, must now trust each other in a dangerous, secret mission that could determine the fate of the world.
What is their mission? To infiltrate an exclusive, fortress-like school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened - LIVE for short; which, incidentally, is EVIL spelled backwards. Someone on the island has been sending thought signals into people's minds, creating a worldwide state of emergency and preparing for an unknown (but most likely terrible) Thing to Come. The children have to find out about it and, if possible, stop it. But it won't be easy. It isn't just that adult agents have failed; but no adult agent who has gone to investigate the island school has ever returned.
That it is a dangerous mission, there can be no doubt. But the bit that makes this story so delightful to read is the quirkiness of the villain, the hyper-imaginative strangeness of the little world he has built around himself, and the gradual way the awesome scope of his evil becomes known. That and the plucky heroism of the kids, whose friendship and courage are put to a profound test. Mind-tickling puzzles, rib-tickling gags, audacious capers and torturous inner conflicts combine in a unique book that brilliantly entertains, provokes thought, and moves the emotions at the same time. Keep a sharp-lookout for the sequel: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 11+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.