The Mysterious Benedict Society
I was working at the children's department of a major bookstore back when HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE was first published in the U.S. You might not remember that the first two Harry Potter books were released here without much fanfare. Back then, there were no 12-million-copy print runs or midnight sales --- just a book, sitting there on the shelves, ripe for discovery. And discover it we did, setting off a word-of-mouth excitement that spread among the staff and customers, presaging the frenzy that would soon envelope practically the entire world.
As I began to read THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, I felt a similar sense of discovery and excitement at finding something new, different and very well done. Trenton Lee Stewart's first novel for children is packed with puzzles, mysteries and wordplay, not to mention a great story. I mean, what could be more thrilling than four kids whose mission is literally to save the world?
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY does share some similarities with J. K. Rowling's celebrated series --- a tight group of friends (who don't always get along), absent parents, a school setting --- but it combines these elements with a whimsical, tongue-in-cheek style that will appeal to Lemony Snicket fans and an emphasis on puzzle-solving that will draw in readers who enjoy Blue Balliett's art-related mysteries.
The four central characters of the novel are thrown together when they respond to a mysterious newspaper advertisement that reads "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?" Following a grueling series of exams, only four children qualify to be sent on a special mission. As the youngsters get to know one another, they learn that each one solved the exams in a different way, using their own particular skills and talents. Reynard Muldoon saw the tests as a series of puzzles to be solved. George "Sticky" Washington used his amazing memory to come up with the test's answers. Kate Wetherall, a sort of junior MacGyver who carries a bucketful of tools at all times, used her physical skills and problem-solving abilities to get the job done. And as for suspiciously tiny, perpetually crabby Constance Contraire, she was just really, really stubborn.
Together, they form The Mysterious Benedict Society, recruited by narcoleptic Mr. Benedict to investigate a critical problem. Subliminal messages are being broadcast around the world, which seem to hint at some kind of coming crisis. Mr. Benedict suspects that the messages originate from Nomanasan Island, where a reclusive character named Ledroptha Curtain runs a secretive school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. As the four kids navigate the school's cryptic rules, bureaucratic structure and creepy punishment methods, they begin to learn the extent of Mr. Curtain's nefarious plan. But can they put a stop to his world takeover before it's too late?
Although THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY has a satisfactory ending, its author has hinted that a sequel is on the way. If you enjoy books with puzzles to solve, mysteries to investigate and wit to savor, don't delay. Discover this fantastic new novel for yourself right away.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 7, 2007
The Mysterious Benedict Society
- Publication Date: March 7, 2007
- Hardcover: 485 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0316057770
- ISBN-13: 9780316057776