Sunday, March 8, 2009
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
14. The Mysterious Benedict Society - first in The Mysterious Benedict Society series
by Trenton Lee Stewart
juvenile fiction, 2007
paperback, 485 pages
After reading about four children in The Saturdays, I decided to go forward almost seventy years to spend time with four present-day children. I first heard of The Mysterious Benedict Society here, and noted it on a Friday Finds posting.
An ad appears in the local newspaper saying, "are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" You might think, not such a big deal, but it really is, because what is different about these words is that they are directed to the child not to the parents of a gifted child. The children who read it and respond to it are going to be, for the most part, children who are alone; children whose parents are not in the picture for one reason or another. They may be gifted, but they are also orphans or runaways. And the writer of the ad knows exactly what he is doing by phrasing it this way. Only children may do the important work that must be done to save the world. Wow! If that doesn't draw a child reader in, I don't know what will.
The children who answer the ad have some very odd tests to complete, and though each child takes the same test, each one comes up with the answers in a way that is completely individual. And that's really the crux of the book, the little hidden message. We are all wonderful, we are all special, we all have our own particular gifts; and that when we put these gifts together with another's gifts, miracles can happen.
You might this an impossibly long book at almost 500 pages, but it felt like 100. I couldn't read it fast enough. There is a lot of action, but there is also a lot of thinking, puzzling, wondering, and feeling. A really amazing book and it doesn't surprise me that all ages are reading and enjoying it. There is a lot to make the reader think. There is mind control; there is longing for acceptance and love and family; there is an evil villain; there is humor. Really it has everything, including great writing. The children are incredibly well-drawn; so much so, that one of them absolutely drove me crazy the whole book right up until the end when a secret is revealed, and I said, whoa of course, now I understand! Could anything be better? I don't think so.
There is a quote from the excellent Horn Book magazine in the front of the book, and it is absolutely true:
Real flashlight-under-the-bedclothes material... the story flies past, thrilling us as it goes.
There are couple things which engage the reader. One is a multiple choice quiz which lets you find out which child you are most like. Of course I took it, and "You are most like Reynie! You are a natural leader and your cleverness will take you far."
And then at the end of the book is a letter to the reader.
I came upon a page that translates morse code to English and found out his name. It doesn't get more fun than this!
And there are wonderful illustrations: The artist, Carson Ellis' "has established a loyal following for her artistic collaborations with the band The Decemberists."
Here is a closer look at the cover detail.
I have the second book in the series waiting on my shelf, and look forward to continuing the story of Reynie, Sticky (so-named because 'everything I read sticks in my head'), Kate, and Constance, and of course Mr. Benedict.
Here are two other great reviews, from Jen and Kailana, and a video book report by a sixth grader.