"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?"
Four orphaned and abandoned children named Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance are indeed looking for special opportunities. They arrive at the testing center ready for anything, only to find that in these curious, tricky, and mind-bending tests only the most knowledgable, most resourceful, most courageous (or most obstinate) will pass. Acing the test will lead them to the house of Mr. Benedict, founder of the Mysterious Benedict Society. Only the smartest, bravest and cleverest people are invited to join. And Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance are invited to join for a very special reason.
Their mission: inflitrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, an elite academy on Nomansan island that's been the source of a number of sinister brainwashing signals. The four will have to enroll as students, find out where the signals are coming from, and destroy them. Doing so will take all of their puzzle-solving skills combined—as well as a great dose of courage.
In the style of Chasing Vermeer, Lemony Snicket, and Roald Dahl, with hints of Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, and Harry Potter comes The Mysterious Benedict Society. Part novel, part puzzle, it's the story of four children who are encouraged to be clever and resourceful in their everyday life. It differs from some of the established tropes of children's adventure literature in a few significant (and positive) ways.
Our four heroes won't stoop to cheating on the first test, even to get the coveted special opportunity. The children, all orphans, grow to care for each other as family through their adventures, and, what's more, the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society, all adults, genuinely care for the children and treat them like family as well. Instead of sneaking off on their own to save the world, these children go on a mission at the request of (and with the support of) the adults. They have a very marked respect for authority, but discernment enough to distinguish good authority from bad authority and refuse to be brainwashed.
Perhaps the only drawback to the book is that it can drag on in certain places, and while the writing certainly doesn't lack charm it often lacks the wit and humor that characterizes predecessors Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl. These quibbles aside, however, The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequels aim to encourage children to use their minds to solve problems by looking at the world in different ways, while fostering a respect for authority and an unwillingness to accept things they know to be false. In a genre often crowded with mindless action stories, this book is very special indeed.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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