The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society was an interesting read. I hate to use vague terms like ‘interesting,’ but I wouldn't say it was exactly ‘immediately captivating,’ nor would I say that it was only ‘mildly entertaining.’ It kept my focus pretty well, but it took me until the latter end of the book to really get into it. That’s probably my only real problem with the story—I found it to be rather slow-paced. If you have more patience than I do in that area, though, I would highly recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society.
The story is about four children who pass some strange tests, whereby they are selected to perform a dangerous mission to save the world from being brainwashed. The characters themselves were the main reason I enjoyed the book: you have your main character, Reynie Muldoon, an even-tempered but above-average boy that most readers will find themselves drawn to; then there’s “Sticky” Washington, the mental storehouse of the group—a nervous brainiac; next is Kate Wetherall, the spunky, motor-mouth girl foil to Reynie’s collected, reasoning character; and finally, there’s the diminutive but disparaging poet, Constance Contraire, whose name says it all. Supporting these four are some quirky adults: the narcoleptic Mr. Benedict, as well as “Number Two” (a woman who can’t sleep and therefore must eat constantly), Rhonda (an intuitive young woman who hails from Zambia), and the perpetually-depressed and memory-less Milligan (a man who mysteriously possesses some impressive, spy-like escape and protection skills).
As for the conflict, I agree with Publisher’s Weekly and The School Library Journal in saying that it has strong echoes of Roald Dahl’s works. There is a continual emphasis on the unappreciated power of children, especially in the face of the antagonists, who believe that children are mostly an annoying blemish on society. I think this comparison is probably my best meter as to whether you will enjoy the piece or not: if you like Roald Dahl’s works, you will more than likely enjoy this one. The adventure moves a little slowly, but the climax is pretty intense. At some points, I had to remind myself to breathe.
Favorite Lines: (A spontaneous poem by Constance Contraire)
“Now we have waited for thirty consecutive
Minutes to see some old dirty Executive.
Thirty long minutes I could have been sleeping.
But she doesn't find her appointments worth keeping.”
Tasha Layton is a BYU alumnus, editor, and new mom. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile who spends her time keeping her bibliovore baby from eating her library.