Four exceptional children:
Sticky Washington, the boy with a glue-like memory.
Kate the Great Weatherall, or The Great Kate Weather Machine as she would prefer to be called.
Reynie Muldoon, the leader with a knack for figuring out puzzles.
Cranky Constance whose salient talent is that of finding the negative in everything and telling everybody about it, loudly and sometimes in verse.
Their Mission: To save the world, of course.
Their Enemy: Ledroptha Curtain, arch-villain whose goal is control of the world and whose methods are almost impossible to resist.
Their Friends: Mr. Benedict, Mysterious Milligan, Rhonda Kazembe, and Pencil Woman Number Two.
Can four children infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (L.I.V.E.), find out what Mr. Curtain is doing, how he is doing it, and how to stop him before he takes over the world?
I loved this book. It reminded me first of last year’s Kiki Strike —without the feminist agenda. In The Mysterious Benedict Society, just in Kiki Strike, four children form a team to fight evil, each has his own special abilities, and the adventure never quits. But in Benedict the children are two boys and two girls, and there’s never any hint of boys against girls or that obnoxious phrase “girl power.”
I think, for Harry Potter fans, there are some HP echoes, too, although I can’t be sure since I’m the only reader in North America who hasn’t read Harry Potter. (Constance and I share a stubborn streak.) Anyway, the idea of an elite group of children with special abilities who are tasked with learning to use their talents and finding a way to save the world seems to me to be straight out of the HP world.
Other themes in the books include: facing fear, finding and cherishing family, and teamwork. Each of these motifs is played out in the course of an adventure that keeps the reader turning the pages to see what will happen next. The Mysterious Benedict Society is Mr. Stewart’s first novel for children, and it’s a corker. I can hardly wait to read more books by this author.
Oh, and Computer Guru Son, who is a Decemberists (musical group) fan, immediately recognized the cover art as the work of Carson Ellis who also does the album cover art for the Decembrists. Here’s an interview with Ms. Ellis, if you’re interested.
Two more things you’ll understand only if you’ve already read the book: I really liked the revelation about Connie at the end of the book, and I didn’t guess it at all. And did anyone else have the brains and the time to figure out the riddle at the end of the book concerning Mr. Benedict’s first name? I must be dense because I still have no idea.
Oh, I also liked the fact that the book actually ends. The author may have left some room for a sequel, but in our mania for sequels and series we’ve gone way overboard, IMHO. I’m sort of tired of the book that never ends but only promises to do so possibly at some time in the future, and this one was a satisfying change. Nice ending, and I’m game for a possible sequel with some of the same characters or for something completely different from Mr. Stewart next time around.
Renee’s Book of the Day: “I did enjoy the book a lot and definitely believe that ten- or eleven- year olds would drink this book right up. It’s full of puzzles, intrigue, evil plots, bullies, sinister institutions, action, humor, and warmth.”
Jen Robinson’s Book Page: “I would have adored this book when I was 10 or 11. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a sure winner for middle grade readers, boy and girls, especially if they like puzzles, or reading about mystery and adventure.”