Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I first came upon The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart while browsing in a bookstore. The second time I came upon the book I made a note to find out more about it, but didn't seriously consider adding it to my reading list. It was only after reading Carrie's review over at Reading to Know that I knew I had to read this book. And of course, having read Carrie's excellent review I feel a little hesitant to post my own, but nevertheless... here I go...

The Mysterious Benedict Society begins with Reynold "Reynie" Muldoon, an orphan who is very intelligent. So intelligent that the orphanage has hired a tutor for him. One day the tutor comes across an unusual ad in the newspaper appealing to gifted children looking for a special opportunity. Reynie's tutor encourages him to check it out, which he does. It begins with a strange test... and leads to another and another... Finally Reynie finds himself in the company of some unusual and gifted children and the Mysterious Benedict Society.

(I apologize as this is not much of a description. If you are looking for more information you should either check out Carrie's review (see above link) or go to If you check anywhere else (i.e. Wikipedia) you run the risk of spoilers, which trust me, you don't want to do!)

Almost from the beginning The Mysterious Benedict Society reminded me of several other books I've read or attempted to read in the past. There's something about the author's style that appears similar to Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, or Adam Gopnik's The King in the Window, or even Eleanor Cameron's series The Wonderful Flight to The Mushroom Planet. All are stories about children who encounter adventure and danger without the aid of adults and must rely on their quick thinking, ingenuity, and bravery to solve the problems they face. And all are stories that might be considered science fiction or fantasy.

Unfortunately I never finished the first two books because I quickly lost interest and someday I might actually finish them... I almost felt The Mysterious Benedict Society was doomed to fall into the same category. I wasn't but 100 pages into this book before I started to doubt my preconceptions... At that point I felt it was overall a cute and clever story, but nothing special. I was tempted to put it down, except that I knew others had said such good things about it... I had to press on.

And I am so glad I did! A few chapters later I was grabbed by the story. In fact, I was fascinated and had difficulty putting the book down... I had to know what happened next. The fascination came mostly from the fact that (intended or not by the author) the story almost read like an allegory, but without being over done or silly -- in fact I think maybe I was "reading" into it, but I liked it all the more for what I found in the story.

The book is listed as "science fiction" and may be much more palatable to those opposed to reading any of the current and popular sci-fi/fantasy available to youth. (Although, if you enjoy The Mysterious Benedict Society you might look into some of the books I listed above, although in my opinion -- excluding the Mushroom Planet -- they aren't nearly as good.)

I don't know that I would go so far as to tell you to buy a copy of this book. I borrowed mine from the library and I'm glad I did. It gave me a chance to decide for myself if I truly liked the book without feeling any pressure of having spent money on a book I knew little about. Of course, now that I know I enjoyed it I may get myself a copy to read aloud to my daughter when she's older... or I may just wait and borrow it again form the library. I suspect it'll be around for a while.

As for reading -- the book is a little hefty at 485 pages, but it is a simple read so combined it only took me a week to finish. (Although I might have read through it more quickly if I hadn't interrupted my reading time to re-watch Wives and Daughters, which was a must after reading that book.)

In a nutshell -- this was a fun read. Put it on your list and check if your library has a copy. It would make a great read-aloud to older children, but of course is great for many of us with the child-within.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Whew. I'm glad you didn't end up hating it. =D The second one, *I* think is enjoyable also. Not in the same way, but also not a disappointment.