I borrowed The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, from the grandson of a friend. Thank you Ethan. I loved it. We'd already agreed that I like Harry Potter, but didn't discuss Lemony Snicket, another book referenced in the glowing comments on the cover. I've found I prefer Harry Potter to Lemony Snicket anyway. I like the way JK Rowling introduces hints and ideas in one book as if they're just background information, then draws them out later into vital plot points. I like the depth of her characters that left us wondering over and over who was good and who was evil--some of us are still discussing it yet. I like the complex side-plots that feed directly into the main storyline, the depths of relationships, the sense of genuine danger and authentic hope... Okay, I really like Harry Potter. And I really like The Mysterious Benedict Society, I suspect for all the same reasons.
This first book of this series introduces four fascinating youngsters, all called to answer a newspaper advertisement quoted on the back cover: "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Doesn't every child want to be gifted somehow? And these children represent a wealth of different gifts, from intelligent problem-solving strategies, to prodigious feats of memory, to clever and amusing physical skills, to plain old solid determination (plus a little extra). They also represent different ethnicities and family backgrounds, each presented appropriately without fanfare. And each child feels somehow rejected and alone in the world.
The "test" that the children have to take to qualify is beautifully told, in a way that leaves readers struggling for answers while eagerly turning pages to where the mysteries are quietly revealed. Sometimes it takes another chapter to show why something was right. Sometimes it's given straight away. I found myself remembering the end of the first Harry Potter book and enjoying the fact that this test came at the beginning.
The author continues skillfully hiding and revealing answers throughout the story. Some mysteries are simple enough that most readers will solve them before the characters. Others leave you eager to find how the solution will be sought. The children do battle with a powerful enemy, surrounded by a wide range of bystanders who may take either side. The mysterious Mr. Benedict helps them, though new discoveries and temptations leave them wondering sometimes if he's the good guy or bad guy in the end. Filled with moral and ethical dilemmas, as well as mysterious puzzles, the novel kept me glued to the pages and eager to read the sequel. I'm really hoping the next book will prove to be just as good (as the brief excerpt in the back certainly suggests). At 485 pages, Mysterious Benedict isn't a short read, but it's a good read. Ethan and I, and Ethan's grandma, all enjoyed it very much. And now my husband's reading as I write.
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About the reviewer
Sheila Deeth (SheilaDeeth)
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
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Starred Review.Grade 5–9—After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting "gifted children looking for special opportunities," he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society. After being trained by Mr. Benedict and his assistants, the four travel to an isolated school where children are being trained by a criminal mastermind to participate in his schemes to take over the world. The young investigators need to use their special talents and abilities in order to discover Mr. Curtain's secrets, and their only chance to defeat him is through working together. Readers will challenge their own abilities as they work with the Society members to solve clues and put together the pieces of Mr. Curtain's plan. In spite of a variety of coincidences, Stewart's unusual characters, threatening villains, and dramatic plot twists will grab and hold readers' attention. Fans of Roald Dahl or Blue Balliett will find a familiar blend of kid power, clues, and adventure inSociety, though its length may daunt reluctant or less-secure readers. Underlying themes about the power of media messages and the value of education add to this book's appeal, and a happy ending with hints of more adventures to come make this first-time author one to remember.—Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary ...