Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

This is one where I'm going to have to trust the kids. These 6/7/8th graders told me they liked it - some raved over it - but it took me forever to finally pick it up. And had those kids not been so insistent, I would have put it back down.

I liked the beginning. Reynie Muldoon is a gifted orphan who answers an ad that reads "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?" As he completes written tests and tests of character and meets others who have done the same, I grew more and more interested.

Then they meet narcoleptic Mr. Benedict and his assistants Milligan, Rhonda Kazembe, and Number Two, who repeatedly assure the four chosen children that their services are crucial to ending the Emergency created by Ledroptha Curtain. (Here's where I started to tune out. Mr. Benedict assures them. And reassures them. Then his assistants assure them. Then I think he does again. Something like that.) Eventually they agree to help, despite great personal risk, prepare endlessly (and a bit more), and after 152 pages finally arrive at The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to foil Mr. Curtain's evil plot.

Okay, here we go! Time for some serious evil plot foiling!

Actually, it's a hundred more pages of introduction to characters at the Institute who are neither learning nor enlightened. Just frustrating. I thought the middle could have used some editing. To be fair, however, it does include plenty of sneaking around, secret passages, codes, outsmarting those who are supposedly smarter, and evil plot foiling plan making. (Stuff those aforementioned kids loved.)

Mr. Curtain's evil plot is truly evil. Using messages hidden in television, radio, and cell phone waves, he implants messages subconsciously into all people's minds. Eventually, properly brainwashed, the world will allow Mr. Curtain to be it's political savior. But in the end, Reynie (the leader), Sticky (the memory), Kate (the bucket carrier), and Constance (the whiner) triumph. Their escape is a particularly hairy one, there are shocking revelations for some characters, and the ending is left sufficiently open for sequels (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, coming May 1, 2008!)

The Mysterious Benedict Society doesn't receive my highest recommendation, but I said I'd trust the kids. They liked it. I guess when kids take down an evil mastermind intent on world domination there's something there that attracts young readers.

Humph. Kids...victorious...evil mastermind...world domination...Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.

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