Upon my college daughter’s recommendation, I bought and read The Mysterious Benedict Society (TMBS) and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart. My child is studying to be an archaeologist and is one of the funniest, most creative people, and outside-the-box thinkers I know. I’ve never been disappointed when taking her up on any reading suggestion she’s ever made.
Despite her ADHD (and many doctors saying she would never read past a 6th grade level), she is an avid reader who is doing quite well with her studies, thank you very much. She's consumed everything Ray Bradbury offers, and has thoroughly enjoyed many classics like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. She has always been especially taken with juvenile fiction – from the Harry Potter series and A Series of Unfortunate Events to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl Series.
This would explain her attraction to a story of four children of varying backgrounds, ages, insecurities, strengths, and talents.
Separately, the children of TMBS first embark on what initially appears to be nothing more than a placement test. Soon enough they find themselves on a harrowing adventure to save the people of the world from the bad guy’s plot to rob everyone of their memory and assume global control.
From the very beginning, there is no shortage of intrigue, mind-bending mystery, and excitement as the drama unfolds for our four young, modern-day, nerds-turned-sleuths. The emotional entanglements and moral dilemmas are decidedly not preachy and are instead handled, much to my delight, humorously and almost haphazardly.
Because the characters are so different from one another, it would be easy for any reader to find the one they most relate to and come away from the story with their own perspective of who did the most, the best, and was the coolest of all. A juvenile reading group, or even a couple of teen friends, would be left with much to discuss.
A supporting cast of equally well-developed adult characters gives the story all the more oomph, as it were. While never displacing or overshadowing the children, each big person’s story is brought to life, and light, with enthusiasm.
The sequel, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, is just as fun, calculating, and adventurous – more so for those who readily identified with one of the characters from the first book. (I didn’t so much identify with any one child character personally as I did see my own daughter in one them. This pulled me into the story maternally, and upon finding out more about that character at the end of the first book, I felt fiercely attached to that character well into the second book.)
Those children who have had to relocate around the globe with their parent(s) might especially delight in the travels of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.
Trenton Lee Stewart’s work has been compared to that of Roald Dahl and others, but I didn’t find TMBS dark or creepy at all – something I definitely felt upon reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. I take issue with other comparisons as well. While I enjoyed the Harry Potter series and was especially taken with the language style of A Series of Unfortunate Events (and recommend both), I found Stewart’s work a much smoother read than J.K. Rowling’s, and an easier page-turner than Lemony Snicket’s.
I love a story that has me forgetting clocks exist. Of all the juvenile fiction I’ve read, Stewart’s is the only one that kept me up all night reading.
Any adult fan of chess who ventures into The Mysterious Benedict Society might consider brushing up on the rules of the game first.