The children’s literary world is filled with swashbuckling heroes, supernaturally powerful heroines and teenage super-spies. The refreshing take from Trenton Lee Stewart is that his main character is highly intellectual but otherwise quite ordinary, but yet he still manages to save the day! That said, he does it with the help of his friends.
The book tells the story of children who are gathered together to attend The Mysterious Benedict Society of the title. Their attendance is made to appear as a sought after prize for the intellectually gifted but once they are locked behind the doors of their new home, the reality is much different!
The story is a testament to the power of friendship, especially when friends offer support to each other to overcome their weaknesses or fears. Having read this to a number of older primary school classes, I can comment on the way in which the children are quickly drawn into the many mysteries of the novel. This is obviously due to the high level of adventure but is also the result of Trenton Lee Stewart’s masterful characterisation…he makes the reader really care for all the characters. I distinctly remember a whole class being genuinely concerned for the welfare of a character who is made to suffer at the hands of the James Bond-esque villain of the story…think Blofeld without the cat!
The novel would provide a good counterpoint to other group adventure narratives such as Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, with the aforementioned normality of the characters offering balance in a world of superheroes and mystical forces! This is also another strong candidate for books to hook reluctant readers as this is the first in a series of adventures for the central characters.