"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Mysterious Benedict Society


The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN-10: 0316057770
ISBN-13: 978-0316057776

When orphaned and lonely Reynie Muldoon answers a recruitment ad for "gifted children looking for special opportunities," he finds himself smack dab in the midst of a highly secretive and dangerous adventure. He is given a series of challenging tests and puzzles to complete until he finally passes them all and meet Mr. Benedict. Reynie and three other children are chosen by the mysterious Mr. Benedict, a kind old man who wears a bright green suit and given to fits of narcolepsy to penetrate The Institute, an isolated school for orphans run by the evil Mr. Curtain.

The other children, tiny Constance Contraire, George “Sticky” Washington and Kate Weatherhill quickly form a friendship and bravely choose to help Mr. Benedict who believes that Mr. Curtain is planning something very dangerous and evil which is tied to something called The Emergency. He lets the children know that subliminal messages are being sent through the televisions and that only they can help stop it.

The four children journey to the school and learn that each of them has their own strength. Constance has her stubbornness, Kat, her athleticism and seemingly magical bucket full of stuff; Sticky, his incredible photographic memory and knowledge and Reynie his leadership ability and heart. Working together they discover not only the nefarious plot to take over the world but also themselves and what really is important.

The book tackles issues of loneliness, abandonment, family, loyalty and truth. It has underlying messages about the dubious power of media and the value of education, honesty, courage and strength of character. It’s the story of orphans facing up to strong issues, a criminal mastermind and their own self doubt. The book brings to mind those wonderful Blue Bailliet books or Roald Dahl. It’s full of intricate plot twisting and intelligent dialogue. While it is a long story (485 pages), it doesn’t feel long as the writing and storytelling keep the reader engaged till the very end. Both boys and girls will love this story. I hope there’s a sequel. This one is a keeper.

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