The Mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stewart
An odd advertisement in the newspaper calling for “gifted children looking for special opportunities” draws dozens of children into a series of bizarre tests, and only four of them pass–only to find that they’ve been selected to go undercover to solve a mystery of worldwide importance.
I had The Mysterious Benedict Society sitting around waiting for me to read it ever since it was chosen for The Association of Booksellers for Children’s E.B. White Read-Aloud award in 2008. It was awesome to meet you at the time, but now that I’ve finally read the book I wish I could meet you all over again! It was so fantastic! I read it in conjunction with The Westing Game for a book club meeting with a mystery/puzzle book theme, and was entirely engrossed by the plot and satisfied when I finished. Funny how the cover of this book and the original Westing Game cover look so similar, and yet they’re two very different kinds of mysteries. Though this book isn’t a mystery in the usual solve-the-murder kind of way, I had loads of fun trying to sort out what was actually going on. The beginning of the book when the kids are being tested was my favorite part, actually–I tried to sort of step back from the narrator’s bafflement as strange situations and interactions kept happening in order to see the real tests behind the traditional pencil-and-paper ones, and was thrilled when my theories turned out to be mostly correct. I was also entirely thrilled by the ending–without giving any spoilers, all I can say is that I loved the way you brought details from early in the book back through cryptic messages and heroic inspiration in order to save the day. The children themselves were also rather fascinating–I grew very fond of them, and they had the sort of timeless charm that I think will carry them through multiple readings and multiple generations. What a completely entertaining read! I’ve got to get my hands on the sequel. Five stars for you!