Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" the advertisement asked. Reynie Muldoon is definitely gifted and more than ready for an opportunity to leave the orphanage, where he is made fun of for his smarts. As he sips his morning tea with his teacher, he decides to take the tests required for these special opportunities. But the tests prove to be a challenge; Reynie is sure he'll never pass them. Much to his surprise he does, as well as three other children. Each child has a special talent - Sticky is a genius with languages and can remember everything he reads; Kate carries a bucket with her at all times so she's never without her rope, flashlight and other tools; and Constance Contraire is tiny, stubborn and cranky but perhaps the most gifted of them all.

All four have been chosen by Mr. Benedict for a special mission only children can complete. They are to become students at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to try to stop The Emergency. No one knows for sure just what The Emergency is, but Mr. Benedict is certain it must be evil since his twin brother, Mr. Curtain, is behind it. The children quickly form The Mysterious Benedict Society and set off for Nomansan Island and life at the Institute.

While the food is good, the lessons are very confusing. They appear to be total nonsense and yet have some truth to them. One of the first lessons the children learn is this one on avoiding the germs that lurk in every corner: "Because it was impossible, in the end, to protect yourself from anything - no matter how hard you tried - it was important to try as hard as you could to protect yourself from everything. There was some kind of truth hidden in there, Reynie though, but it was camouflaged with nonsense."

Doing well on lessons is important because top students get to become Messengers which gives them special privileges. But not everyone on Nomansan Island is happy, as the Mysterious Benedict Society soon finds out. And not everything is as it seems at the Institute. The grounds and buildings are so well guarded, it will take all the cleverness the four can manage to discover the secret behind Mr. Curtains plans.

If you like mysteries with a few puzzles thrown in to keep you on your toes, this book is for you. It doesn't move very fast, but each chapter is a cliff hanger making you want to turn another page. You'll wish you could join the Mysterious Benedict Society!

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