The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Mysterious Benedict Society | Trenton Lee Stewart

Clever book for clever kids

The Mysterious Benedict Society was a very pleasant surprise. I picked it up as a freebie without reading a review; one day there it was, on my Kindle, an unknown book with an interesting name. I started reading with no preconceptions, least of all that it was a children’s book.

Update October 2020: I can’t think of a better book for parents to read aloud to their preteen kids. It’s about kids working together to save the world using their unique abilities. Might make some anxious kids feel braver about facing the world right now.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

When a peculiar advertisement appears in the newspaper for children to take part in a secret mission, children everywhere sit a series of mysterious tests. In the end, just four children succeed: Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance. They have three things in common: they are all honest, all remarkably talented and all orphans. They must go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened where the only rule is that there are no rules. There they must work as a team to save not only themselves, but also the world outside the walls…

I’m so glad I read it by accident because I really enjoyed it. I’ve seen it compared to A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is an Unfortunate Comparison that would have warned me off if I’d seen it before I read the book (that book annoyed me so much I threw it across the room – a gesture I’ve only done twice in over half a century. I thought it was utter rubbish, poorly written and so annoying that I’m still angry about it, years later.).

Anyway, back to The Mysterious Benedict Society. THAT is a good book for children (age 10-13), and like all the best books for children, enjoyable for adults too. It’s clever, it’s for and about clever kids, and it doesn’t talk down to its audience. It’s imaginative, fast paced, with lots of surprises.

Unlike some reviewers, I didn’t find it too long. It actually kept me up far too late several nights in a row – I was enthralled (if rather exhausted).

I couldn’t help thinking about the Harry Potter books as I was reading it. Although it’s very different, and it didn’t completely blow me away to the same extent, there are some similarities. One is the red thread of kindness through the story. Not saccharine niceness, but solidly good, kind, brave characters.

One thing that surprised me while reading it: although it’s American, it felt very British in tone, like a classic British children’s story.

Find it on Amazon and at other bookstores.

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