The Mysterious Benedict Society

September 14, 2009 at 12:00 am 6 comments

The pencil woman had begun handing out the tests. The first child to receive one was a tough-looking boy in a baseball cap who eagerly grabbed it, looked at the first question, and burst into tears…..

“I’m afraid loud weeping isn’t permitted,” said the pencil woman. “Please leave the room.”

The Mysterious Benedict Society is exactly the type of book I would have loved at about the ages of eight or ten, around the time I was reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy. It’s one of those novels that, though only published in 2007, already feels like a childhood classic. reminiscent of E. L. Konigsburg in all the best ways, this book is about four independently-minded orphans with exceptional, varied and complementary abilities, who must band together for a common goal.

This motif is not new. Anyone who has read The View from Saturday will recognize elements of that novel in this one, as well as elements of other classic YA books such as The Giver and The Boxcar Children (or something like them). But the combination of these elements makes this book very enjoyable, with  puzzles to solved by both the characters and the reader, surprises on every page, and delightfully likeable and distinctly quirky characters.

This is also a children’s book that doesn’t feel at all dumbed-down or patronizing. Trenton Lee Stewart doesn’t hesitate to use words like ‘ignominious’, but he also makes it clear that at least one of his characters doesn’t know the meaning of that word, either, providing a chance for explanation. Many of the puzzles set forth in the beginning chapters are later explained, but readers are given plenty of chances to think them through for themselves. The more interested reader might be inspired to follow the characters’ examples and learn Morse Code — if only to solve the book’s final riddle.

Overall, this is definitely a book worth buying for any child of the right age, or even for yourself; it’s assuredly .– — .-. – ….   .- .-. . .- -..  .- –   .-.. . .- … – !


Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  September 14, 2009 at 6:11 am

    I’m so delighted you reviewed this! I have been picking it up and setting it back down in bookstores for probably years!

    • 2. KT  |  September 14, 2009 at 10:46 am

      So good! I wish this book had been around when I was the right age, but it was so nice to revisit my literary childhood, so to speak :)

      • 3. Corey  |  September 14, 2009 at 1:57 pm

        Excellent! I guess I’ll find a copy and hold it until Callie and/or Henry is of the appropriate age. At least they can benefit for this. :)

      • 4. KT  |  September 14, 2009 at 2:12 pm

        Oh, totally! And it would be a great book to read aloud, if Callie’s a little young to read it on her own.

    • 5. Corey  |  September 14, 2009 at 2:32 pm

      But how would you read the Morse code aloud?! Maybe it isn’t as vital as I’m imagining…

      • 6. KT  |  September 14, 2009 at 3:55 pm

        Oh, it’s not — most of it is actually translated within the text without being transcribed, or is written out as “dot dot dash” or something. It just seems like after reading this book, a lot of kids would want to learn Morse Code!


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