Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie Muldoon is an orphan, and a very gifted young man. He has surpassed everyone at his orphanage and now has a special tutor. When he sees an ad in the paper asking “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” he jumps at the chance to do something new and different. After two days of very strange tests, he and three other students are the finalists. What have they won? An opportunity to save the world. They are introduced to Mr. Benedict who has determined that indeed the people of the world are in danger.

It seems that a Mr. Curtain runs a school for gifted children and he is using them to send messages subliminally to the world through the television. Mr. Benedict is sending the children to the school to determine the purpose of Mr. Curtain’s plans and, if possible, how to stop him.
The four children come to the school with very different talents. Reynie is able to solve intricate puzzles, Sticky can remember anything he has ever read, and Kate is incredibly athletic and acrobatic. Constance’s abilities have yet to be discovered by the other three who find her quite annoying but Mr. Benedict assures them that she is vital to their success.

After the children reach the island where Mr. Curtain’s school is located, they must discover how to become messengers – the children chosen to send the messages over the televisions. They find out that Mr. Curtain’s plans are indeed nefarious and the prospects for stopping him are not good. They must work together in order to infiltrate Mr. Curtain’s organization stop him.

I had seen The Mysterious Benedict Society on a number of Newbery lists, so when it arrived with my book order, I was eager to read it. I wasn’t, however, very excited by it. There were parts I liked, but I felt overall that Mr. Stewart was trying to be too cute, too clever and, quite frankly, it got on my nerves. I also felt that the book was too long. Now don’t get me wrong – I love long books (after all I just read World Without End and it was over 1,000 pages). I did feel that this book rambled on a bit and it could have benefitted from some tighter editing.

The important question is, of course, what will children think of it? I honestly don't know. I think the size (485 pages) will be off-putting to many. I know that Harry Potter's length didn't deter anyone, but I think he's a special case (and the first couple of books weren't all that long). If they can get beyond the length, I think there will be an audience for this book, but it will be limited.

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