Well, I intended to post a Seven Things on Friday, but I worked that day and all weekend…and I just can’t get my life together when I have to work. Also, it’s hard to write blog posts when you’re completely obsessed with a new book series. I had been meaning to read The Mysterious Benedict Society for some time since it was on the bestseller list for a year and it’s got such a fantastic title and cover art (I admittedly judge books by their covers all the time. Not sorry.) so when I finally started it a few weeks ago, I was hooked. Like, seriously hooked.
After reading the first book, I immediately jumped on the second, and then miraculously found the third in the book drop at work. Guys, you have no idea how serendipitous that is. The odds of me finding anything I was looking for in the book drop, much less a book I wanted but wasn’t specifically looking for in that location are so incredibly small it’s not even funny. I basically did a happy dance and there was great rejoicing. (“Yaaaay.”)
All that being said, I’m obsessed with this series and I don’t know anybody else who has read it, which is killing me because I’m desperate for someone to talk to about it! Never fear, I’ve forced it on as many friends as possible. And now I’ll force it on you!
The series focuses on a group of incredibly brilliant children who answer a newspaper advertisement promising extraordinary opportunities for gifted children willing to take a certain test. The four who pass make up the Mysterious Benedict Society. They are given the challenge of…well, saving the world. Now I won’t say more in regards to plot synopsis because there are really so many puzzles and mysteries that you should read for yourself. I refuse to give anything away!
The series, written by Trenton Lee Stewart, consists of three books – The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma – and a prequel, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. There’s also a puzzle book entitled Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums. Guys, titles alone should make you run to the library right now. I’m reading The Prisoner’s Dilemma and I can assure you that these books just keep getting better. Here are a few reasons you should read them!
1.) These books are just so clever. The tests and challenges that the children have to solve are really fun, in and of themselves. The books are filled with riddles and questions that must be answered in creative ways. This is a middle-grade series, but the material isn’t necessarily super-easy to solve. And any book that makes me run to the computer to figure out Morse Code is a winner.
Stewart also gets clever with character and location names in the series, which I love. You’ll meet a sailor named Captain Noland and visit places like Nomansan Island. I truly appreciate authors who take the time to creatively and sneakily clue readers in on character development. Once I figured out that some characters have revealing names, the entire book began to read like a code, which is just excellent.
2.) Stewart’s characters become the reader’s instant friends and instant foes. He establishes a world reminiscent of those created by Roald Dahl, populated by characters both bizarre and lovable. I easily developed a bond with the main characters and the villains are the best kind – the ones you love to hate.
The children who make up the Society are all orphans or runaways…or runaway orphans, in some cases. The group consists of bold, energetic Kate, nervous, but brilliant Sticky, continually grouchy Constance (who complains in verse and who’s full name is Constance Contraire…get it?) and Reynie who finds himself the leader of the group. Stewart does a great job of giving each of these characters personal baggage to work through, a task which can only be accomplished through the friendship and personal accomplishment they develop while mastering the challenges they face.
You’ll also meet characters like Mr. Benedict, Number Two, Cannonball, Rhonda Kazembe, Moochoo Brazos…and on and on. There is literally no end to the kooky companions and dastardly villains Stewart creates. I like a series in which the good are great and the bad are horrid and The Mysterious Benedict Society does not fail here. The bad guys are really, really creatively bad, which is exactly what you want in a series like this.
3.) These books are page-turners and the action sequences don’t disappoint. Good and bad are definitely at odds in this series, so at times the action can get suspenseful and a little scary. There are fight scenes and clever means of torture and many a sneak attack. The books read like a really great action movie with lots of close calls and impossible-to-escape show downs. Stewart does a great job of leaving details to our imaginations so that it doesn’t get unnecessarily frightening, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get a little nervous while reading these books. These would make great read-aloud books for classrooms, too, because lots of chapters end with cliff-hangers and students would eat that up. Or hate you for it. Mwuahahaha.
4.) Adults treat children as people valued for their talents and deserving of respect. One of my big hang ups with the world is that many times kids are treated like second-class citizens just because of their age. And that’s just dumb. In The Mysterious Benedict Society children are encouraged to draw their own conclusions and given space to make their own decisions while being guided by loving adults. They are trusted to do the right thing and they are put in situations and environments in which their gifts will thrive. The children are loved despite, and sometimes because of, their weaknesses. Even perpetually grouchy Constance, who very well may be my favorite character, finds acceptance and a healthy outlet for her emotions in these books.
5.) The value system in this series is on point. Nobility, cleverness, honesty, and justice are honored and, while the main characters all possess these virtues, they are real enough to possess failings, too. Each child struggles with something: pride, impatience, self-doubt. They are not perfect. They fail themselves and each other. But what’s exciting is that these characters take responsibility for their actions. By acknowledging their failings, they gain humility, appreciate forgiveness, and seize opportunities to make things right.
These kids struggle with weighty issues, too. Are most people innately good? Can good things come from bad circumstances? For Mr. Benedict, the answers to these questions are decidedly yes, but he lets the children come to those conclusions on their own. He doesn’t force his beliefs upon them, but gives them every opportunity to see the good in their surroundings, offering a safe place for them to work through these important lessons that every child must face.
This series also teaches that revenge, retaliation, and vengeance aren’t the answer. As in most epic battles of good versus evil, our protagonists are sorely tempted to employ all of those things. At one point Kate is told, “We’re not like them,” but it’s ultimately up to her to decide which path she wants to take. I don’t think there can ever be enough books with this message and I appreciate that Stewart lets his characters find these truths on their own as we all must.
Suffice it to say, The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart has definitely found a home on my most-loved books list. I seriously can’t wait to read it with my kids. I love that Stewart plants surprises around every corner and peppers even the most innocent seeming chapters with clues. Nothing is ever as it seems and only the quick, ingenious, and clever will succeed…which is as it should be.
PS. I’m almost through with this series! What should my next great read be?? And, as always, if you have read these books, NO SPOILERS, please! I basically ended a friendship based on the fact that the person ruined The Half-Blood Prince for me and I’m not even kidding…this girl don’t play spoilers, y’all.