Stewart, Trenton Lee. 2007. The Mysterious Benedict Society. 485 pages.
Loneliness. Anger. Frustration. Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Feelings common to both children and adults. What if there was a way to eliminate fear and anxiety? What if there was a way to make everyone happy and content all the time? No worries. No problems. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Meet Reynie Muldoon. Kate Wetherall. George "Sticky" Washington. Constance Contraire. These four kids make up the Mysterious Secret Benedict Society. They've been recruited by Mr. Benedict to infiltrate the elite school. The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. L.I.V.E. for short. (Yes, spelled backwards it reads EVIL.) As a team, they must work as secret agents and uncover the evil plots of one Mr. Curtain. Mr. Curtain has an evil scheme to rule the world, and it involves using children as pawns. It will take bravery, teamwork, and determination to succeed. Do these children have what it takes to save the world?
The Mysterious Benedict Society is not the first book of the year to feature an elite, secretive school for geniuses. But it is the first that I actually liked reading. What I liked best about the book was the writing. The style of it. The phrasing. It had a certain uniqueness about it that was just enjoyable through and through. Here are two of my favorite parts:
The first scene I'm sharing is of a classroom of students taking a test. The second test to see if they qualify for this "unique" education.
The first child to receive one was a tough-looking boy in a baseball cap who eagerly grabbed it, looked at the first question, and burst into tears. The girl behind him looked at her test, rubbed her eyes as if they weren't working properly, then looked again. Her head wobbled on her neck."If you begin to feel faint," said the pencil woman, moving on to the next child, "place your head between your knees and take deep breaths. If you think you may vomit, please come to the front of the room, where a trash can will be provided." Down the row she went, distributing the tests. The crying boy had begun flipping through the test now--there appeared to be several pages--and with each new page his sobs grew louder and more desperate. When he reached the end, he began to wail. "I'm afraid loud weeping isn't permitted," said the pencil woman. "Please leave the room." The boy, greatly relieved, leaped from his desk and raced to the door, followed at once by two other children who hadn't received the test yet but were terrified now to see it. The pencil woman closed the door. "If any others flee the room in panic or dismay," she said sternly, "please remember to close the door behind you. Your sobs may disturb the other test-takers." She continued handing out the test. Child after child received it with trembling fingers, and child after child, upon looking at the questions, turned pale, or red, or a subtle shade of green.(21)
Who hasn't in their life felt some panic and anxiety about taking a test? Anyway, I just thought these were very unique instructions to give for a test.
This second passage is after the main characters arrive at the school. These are the non-rules rules they're given. You can wear whatever you want, just so long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt. You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you're clean every day in class. You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it's during meal hours in the cafeteria. You're allowed to keep the lights on in your rooms as late as you wish until ten o'clock each night. And you can go wherever you want around the Institute, so long as you keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors. (171)
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Review by Becky L., our star contributor.