Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

In this 480-page children’s adventure thriller, the titular Mr. Benedict puts out an ad calling for gifted children to take a special opportunity.  Reynie Muldoon answers, and discovers, after some bizarre problem-solving tests, he is member of a team that may save the world.  With Kate, a circus performer who carries a utility bucket, Sticky, a boy with a photographic memory, and the tiny, petulant Constance, he enters a forbidding school known as the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where a cryptic man named Mr. Curtain is using children’s thoughts to bend the world’s population to his will.

It’s all far more exciting and thrilling than the labored description above can convey.  This is a rich, wonderful book, with logic games and messages of love and belonging, all things designed to tug at the heart of the typical reader: the gifted child who sees himself as an outcast already and yearns for adventure.  I was utterly blindsided by all the twists and turns, I must admit, even the one involving Mr. Curtain at the end and the delightfully silly one involving Constance.  This is really a phenomenal work, packed with humor and adventure and fun; I can’t imagine why it didn’t win the Newbury.  

four stars