Recently, we caught up with a good friend in New York. She’s someone who has always had a love of books and reading, and she gifted my daughters with several good books . Some of them we had already read (remind me to tell you about The Westing Game), but there was one series that was brand new to us. The other day, we finished reading the first book together, and boy…was it terrific.
It was called The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart.
Reynie Muldoon is a brilliant young orphan who has long since surpassed his school’s ability to teach him anything. Responding to an odd advertisement that promises great opportunities, he embarks on a series of tests–some obvious and some veiled–which lead him eventually to the company of the enigmatic Mr. Benedict. Reynie learns of a great danger that threatens the world, and the unique role he can play to help save it. He must join with three new companions–the athletic and fearless Kate, the brainy but insecure Sticky, and the disagreeable Constance–on a perilous mission that will test them all.
The Mysterious Benedict Society is a gripping yarn that had my three daughters (aged 10-13) completely gripped and eager for more at the end of each chapter. It’s in equal parts mystery, adventure, and drama, and punctuated by some really funny bits as well. It is a book for younger readers and as a result some of the challenges the characters face and the lessons they learn in overcoming them feel slightly simplified, but that was a small price to pay for a story that kept us all guessing and engaged all the way through.
A big part of the charm is the characterization of the four children. Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance are all distinct and clearly drawn personalities. The book is highlighted by a series of puzzles the children must face, first in their initial tests set up by Mr. Benedict, and then in their mission to infiltrate a strange school which seems to be the heart of a plan to bring the world to disaster. There is a lot charm in seeing how each of these personalities responds to these puzzles both individually and in concert as they learn to work together.
In particular, there’s a lot made of Constance’s role: from the outset, this smallest member of their team is seen to be quite difficult. She’s self-centered, impolite, lacks perseverance and given to complaint. The others are promised that she is integral to their team, but they cannot imagine in what way. It’s pretty obvious that there’s going to be an answer, but when it comes, it proves pretty delightful.
But no spoilers here. Instead, you should just read it, as to give away things about this book certainly would be a disservice. Indeed, when my friend gave it to us, she hinted that there was a revelation in the story to do with one of the main characters which she really enjoyed, but she said no more than that. I don’t know for sure what she was talking about but I have a good guess. At one point there comes a bit of information about one character that made so much sense in the circumstances, and yet was so unexpected, that we all had to stop reading to have a discussion and a laugh.
The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a series. To date there are two sequels, one prequel, and one puzzle book. We’ve yet to embark on any of them but we’re looking forward to it.