On top of blogging about books and writing my own, I also tutor writing. My clients all have unique requests – help with college essays, preparing for a writing exam, even learning English as a second language – and my latest client was no different. She tasked me to help her daughter with reading comprehension. To find a book for us to read together, I knew I’d have to do some research (I don’t typically read middle grade) and after talking with a children’s book seller, a precocious seven-year-old, and the precocious seven-year-old’s mom, I settled on The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Though I planned to read at the pace of my client – a few chapters a week – I couldn’t; I couldn’t put it down.
When young Reynie Muldoon sees the strange advertisement in his local newspaper promising “special opportunities” for the “gifted children” who pass a series of arduous tests, he signs up with little hesitation. He’s always felt different from the other children in his orphanage, so perhaps this will be a chance for him to make some friends. The tests, however, are much more mind-bending and bizarre than anything he could have imagined and Reynie begins to doubt he has what it takes to succeed. And yet, after each round of tests, as the moderator announces those children who have passed, Reynie finds himself in the exclusive and dwindling group.
At the end of the day, Reynie and the three other children who have made it through – whip-smart Sticky Washington, adventurous Kate Whetherall, and contrary Constance Contraire – meet Mr. Benedict, the quirky genius who arranged the test. But unfortunately, Benedict has bad news for the young team. A corrupt man and his nefarious subliminal-messaging machine are threatening the lives of everyone around them. Now the children are faced with a choice: return to their safe lives of routine and isolation or come together and risk everything to save a world that has rejected them.
Reynie and his team of misfits are endearingly quirky, their high jinks irresistibly fun. With its cleverness and heart, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a perfect read for the Harry Potter fan craving youthful adventure or anyone looking for breezy palette cleanser between more serious reads. And it’s sure to be a success as a gift for any kid in your life!