the mysterious benedict society

I rarely buy books that I know next to nothing about; my book-buying dollars are usually directed toward books I’ve loved and therefore must own or books by writers whose work I can count on enjoying. 

But I was wandering through Barnes and Noble’s children’s department with a birthday gift card when The Mysterious Benedict Society caught my eye.  I hadn’t heard anything about it (positive or negative) through my usual channels — family, Twitter, general online buzz — but  I decided to take a chance on it anyway.

It turned out to be a good gamble.  Though the title and the author (Trenton Lee Stewart) weren’t familiar at all, the story itself was — in the very best sense.  Stewart’s novel technically takes place within the United States (as can be recognized by mentions of the President and the White House), but the real setting could more accurately be described as that alternative world that so commonly appears in the best of children’s literature — that world of Dahl and Snicket, where some things appear to be as they are in our own world, but so much else is so entirely different.  It takes a gifted writer to find this place between fantasy and reality, and with The Mysterious Benedict Society, I think Stewart has established himself as exactly this. 

Though the world the story exists within is familiar, the plot of the novel is entirely unique. Eleven-year-old Reynie, a precocious but lonely orphan, sees an ad in the newspaper one day inviting gifted children to learn more about “special opportunities.”  After a series of rather bizarre tests, he ends up setting out on an adventure with three other children, all of whom have their own sets of talents. 

The entire book is simply fun, full of colorful characters and laughable moments, and it transported me right back to my childhood reading.  Stewart has now published three books in the series, and I’m looking forward to moving on to the next one.    Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is this: I’ve already bought The Mysterious Benedict Society as a Christmas present for one young reader on my list, and I would certainly recommend you consider it for any on yours.

WHO: Trenton Lee Stewart
WHAT: The Mysterious Benedict Society
WHERE: Purchased new
WHEN: November 2009
WHY: Simply caught my eye
HOW: Hard copy 

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~ by Molly on November 29, 2009.

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