Monday, May 28, 2007

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart, with illustrations by Carson Ellis

Four gifted children, each with distinct talents but with a shared uncommon love of truth, are united after a series of tests administered by the very unusual Mr. Benedict and his assistants. Reynie Muldoon sees Mr. Benedict's opportunity as a chance to live with people who will appreciate his interest in learning. Kate Weatherall is a utility bucket toting acrobat eager for adventure. Sticky Washington has run away from his parents, whose only interest seems to be capitalizing on his incredible memory to profit from game show winnings. Constance Contraire, is a loud, obnoxious poet; but Mr. Benedict insists that she will play an important role in the team's mission. Their mission: to infiltrate the evil Mr. Curtain's island fortress and stop his plan of brainwashing the masses.

Reminiscent in many ways of Brainboy and the Deathmaster (Seidler), the story is sort of unwieldy and overlong, yet is satisfying overall. The tone in places recalls A Series of Unfortunate Events but the presence of an extra couple major characters lengthens the book considerably. The minor characters are less memorable, however, than in the Snicket books. Carson Ellis's illustrations for each chapter break up the almost 500 pages helpfully and nicely. I anticipate that this book will intimidate many kids, and Stewart's choices to expand rather than constrict the scope of the book does reduce the kid appeal. Those kids who are willing to take the challenge offered by The Mysterious Benedict Society will likely enjoy it.