Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society

I purchased this book, by Trenton Lee Stewart, as a Christmas present for my daughter , based on a favorable review that I can no longer remember. The best review, however, was the incidence of my daughter bouncing into my room and onto my bed announcing that this book was "most awesome." She followed my passage through the book as eagerly as I read it, checking every day to see "what part" I had reached.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is long, 485 pages (486 if you count the riddle challenge from Mr. Benedict on the last page), but it is a quick read and never boring. Four orphaned children with disparate backgrounds are discovered and chosen for their exceptional and unique talents. The mysterious Mr. Benedict recruits them for a dangerous and challenging mission. Even the mission is shrouded in secrecy, it's exact aim unknown even to Mr. Benedict. The children must overcome their initial wariness of each other and pool their talents for the success of the mission. It is a story of friendship, bravery, daring, cleverness, and trust.

TMBS succeeds because it immediately draws the reader in to the story. As the children are tested to determine their worthiness to join in the adventure, the reader is tested as well. Each child passes the same tests, yet not in the same way. The reader finds himself plotting how he would pass the tests. How would he pass through the labyrinth without light? How would he solve the puzzling riddles posed by Mr. Benedict? The reader is one with the group that ultimately names itself, The Mysterious Benedict Society.

With trustworthy and level-headed Reynie, nervous and brilliant Sticky, resourceful and cheerful Kate, and obstinate and resolute Constance, the reader will be entertained, amused, educated and thrilled. A deeper look into this novel reveals the possibilities of media or governmental brainwashing (think 1984's "doublethink" or more recently- Feed), however most teens and pre-teens will likely be too engrossed in solving the mystery to take much note of the subtle undertext.

Part sci-fi, part mystery, all fun. The Mysterious Benedict Society will keep you guessing (literally) until the very end. And yes, I solved the final riddle. When my
daughter wakes up, that's the first thing that I'll tell her.

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