The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart
{ 2008 | Little, Brown Young Readers | 512 pgs }

It’s true, I’m doing a few things wrong here. First, I should be reviewing Tallgrass right now, since I read it before The Mysterious Benedict Society. Second, I really should not have read this book all in one sitting…which meant staying up until I-dunno-how-late-since-I-made-sure-not-to-look-at-the-clock. Third, it would probably be better for me to be thinking about lunch instead of debating having another cookie. (Or two. Or three.)

The Mysterious Benedict Society seems, to me, to draw on the success of A Series of Unfortunate Events. (I’m having really severe déja vu here. I know I’ve said this before. Seriously, can you help me out? Did I tell you about this book already?) It’s about rather brilliant orphans who have to solve a mystery, or a series of mysteries. One key difference is that TMBS (do you mind? It’s a pain to type the whole title) isn’t nearly as depressing. It’s actually quite cheery in comparison.

The orphans are Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance, although the narration centers more specifically on Reynie, as he is the leader of the group (and the most empathetic character). The book starts with an extremely difficult written test, given to several large groups of children. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance are the only four who pass – or are selected by Mr. Benedict – and then complete additional unorthodox testing. Mr. Benedict needs to assemble a team of children to combat the threat of…well, it’s rather mysterious. And hard to explain without giving away too much plot.

What do I have to say about it, then? Well, like I told you, I stayed up half the night (maybe more, maybe less) reading it. The characters are each amusing and poignant in their own way; the writing is unobtrusively excellent; the story is fascinating. There were a few twists and turns, but mainly Stewart has done a great job of letting the reader discover new things when the children do. I never felt like I knew extra pieces of the mystery that the orphans hadn’t yet found. It was a fun journey.

Apparently there is a second book, and a third due for release this year. I’ll definitely be picking those up. (Special thanks to Katie for lending me TMBS, and not harassing me for always forgetting to return it!)

Tweet: In the mood for a humorous, exciting, and dare I say mysterious novel? Pick up The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart!

P.S. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this: the illustrations – the cover, the title headings, and so on – are done by the incredible Carson Ellis, and while you never can judge a book by its cover (so they say), that’s really half the reason I wanted to read it in the first place. They add so much to the book.


5 Comments on “The Mysterious Benedict Society”

  1. KHL says:

    Sounds a lot like the Enid Blyton Adventure books, except there the kids weren’t technically all orphans. I really loved all of those as a kid and had to re-read them a few years ago to see if they were still as fun. Although it was a guilty pleasure, since Enid Blyton is the only children’s book author I know that was singled out by A. H. King as no-good.

  2. mikaroni says:

    Why did he say no-good on Enid Blyton? I remember he said fake flowers = trashy and jazz = of the devil. Or something along those lines.

  3. KHL says:

    “One of the greatest disadvantages of fairy tales is this: they give to children the assurance that there are magical powers by which they can do all sorts of things without making an effort. That is ultimately what magic is about–not having to make an effort. Good literature with Christian values teaches children that they must try, they must make an effort. And this is one of the most important things for children to learn. That is why an author like Enid Blyton, for example, is not good for children. … Enid Blyton gives children morality, it is true enough, but she also gives them a magical world in which they do not have to make an effort to succeed because magic is there to help them out. That is the wrong kind of book.” (Arm the Children, p 244-245) Of course, you have to remember that he was raised Quaker, and never did think dancing was a good idea either. I guess for myself, while I’d like magic to be true, I never expected it to work–I’ve never gotten my million dollar check either. But I still think it’s fun to imagine.

  4. Jill says:

    I had this book in my hands at Borders today and put it back. I’m thinking that was a mistake. Thanks for the review.

  5. Nicolasa says:

    students in my class loved this book!

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