I am back tonight with a review of a The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I picked this book up on a whim at my local library book sale in Dallas and I am so glad I did! I first heard about this book on the Read Aloud Revival Podcast which I have been loving lately. I figured that was all the recommendation I needed to buy this book for exactly $1. Yes, $1. I am so glad I did!
I am officially a Mysterious Benedict Society fan. I just bought the rest of the books in the series (and even the prequel book about Nicholas Benedict himself!) so I can be all caught up for the fall release of book 4! These books are clever, crazy, and even interactive. Can’t wait to read more!
- I can see why these books are on the RAR Podcast lists. They are so clever and teach kids about standing up for what’s right, being true to your friends, and making the world a better place. I can’t wait to read this one with my kids when they’re older.
- I would definitely call this a middle grade novel. It’s got some intense moments and some violence (basically school fights and evil genius take overs) so I think older elementary and middle school kids would love these.
- Can we just take a minute to admire the clever cover of this book? Seriously these are fun! And there are drawings throughout the book that are a fun touch.
According to Goodreads, “‘Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?’ Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they’ll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. So, if you’re gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.”
The characters are authentic and go on great journeys to understand themselves and to discover the truth in the world around them. Reynie was my favorite because he wanted to do the right thing, was so clever, and a natural leader. I also appreciated that he was imperfect and sometimes wanted to give up or make the easy choice instead of the right one. He felt very real that way. I also loved Mr Benedict. There is something just so endearing about that man from his laughing epilepsy to his true kindness and belief in the power of children to save the world. He is probably the most likable character in the book. I certainly respected the other members of the MBS. Sticky has an incredible mind like a steal trap, Kate is hilariously handy with her bucket, and Constance is perhaps the most stubborn character I’ve ever met. She either drove me crazy or made me laugh at her ridiculous stubbornness. I can’t wait to see where the next books take these characters.
The plot is fast paced and surprising over and over again. I loved the first part of the book with the different types of tests and seeing how each child passed them. The questions were so clever and the ways each child answered them different was even more clever! Once they get to the island, I didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t put the book down as twist after twist happened. I just hung on for the ride. I seriously could not believe how clever these kids were sometimes–especially the crazy ending! Your kids will not want to put this book down. They may just stay up late reading one more chapter until they’ve finished. I may or may not have done that myself 😉
I’m not usually keen on “taking over the world” plot lines, but this one worked for me. Perhaps that’s because it focuses on a small group of people in a specific place (on the island) that it felt more realistic for me. It doesn’t read like “the whole world is a conspiracy” like others that I haven’t liked. This was more like “one man is a conspiracy” so that focus kept the whole plot grounded for me. I didn’t quite understand why Mr Curtain was trying to create such a complex emergency to take over the world through his hidden messages. But that could also be because I am not an aspiring evil genius.
The themes and questions raised from this book are fascinating. Not only do we get a fantastic action packed plot, this story also makes readers think about complex questions. Here are some of my favorites that it raised: what is truth? how do we create trust? what is friendship? what is power? how is the mind manipulated or influenced? what is the value of education? why is memory important and how can it be controlled? how does one obtain control? I love all the potential conversations that can flow from this book. It makes this book even more worthwhile. Bravo, Trenton Lee Stewart!
This is a great book! And, as I mentioned above, I recently learned this is the first book in a SERIES! So now I will be busy reading the rest of the books. I’m excited to have found another great series to dive into and one day read with my kids. This book is for everyone: kids, adults, students, readers, adventurers, nerds, jocks, evil geniuses and endearing grandpas. Everyone will find something to like in this book.
Have you read this book yet? What did you think?
What are your favorite middle grade series?