Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

133_uk The way I discover new books has, up until now, been by random accidents.  Reading a review or an interview, a blog post, “Customers who bought this also bought…” on Amazon, e.t.c.  I have rarely handled my choice of reading material before it’s mine, since the majority of my book browsing and buying is done online.  This situation has now changed since I recently became a Bookseller; a very exhausted, early rising, sore feeted, but happy Bookseller. I now get to read first lines, chapters, whole books and run my fingers over the covers (and sniff the pages!) – before I commit to buy.

With the book I want to talk to you about today, I had very little idea of what it was about and even less idea what it would look like.  The Mysterious Benedict Society arrived in the post and I knew in an instant that if I’d seen it on a shelf in a book shop I would have snapped it up.  It’s tall and skinny and the cover wraps around the book splitting at the front.  Very quirky, very original and one of those covetous Wow!  things.  Kids will love it.  For the life of me I cannot remember why I bought The Mysterious Benedict Society.  The author Trenton Lee Stewart is a New York Times bestselling author but I saw very little UK coverage and there wasn’t even an Amazon rating when I one clicked  to buy.  But I am so glad I did.  Serendipity is one of my favourite words and it works in so many ways.

The story is about four orphans, Reynie (the MC), Sticky, Kate and Constance, all unusually gifted and all completely honest.  They all answer an advertisement in a newspaper: “Are you a gifted child looking for opportunities?” and are weeded out from all the applicants by a series of tests.  The brilliant thing about the tests was that they were designed to bring out the special qualities each child had, it wasn’t so much about the tests themselves but the way the children handled them.  The resulting group of four all have very different skills and attitudes ; the basis of the ultimate team.  They are introduced to Mr Benedict who asks them to take on a very dangerous mission in order to save the world.

This book is a joy to read, I absolutely loved so much of the writing…

At the front of the room, munching rather loudly on an apple, the test administrator was keeping a close eye on them to ensure they didn’t cheat.  She was a thin woman in a mustard-yellow suit, with a yellowish complexion, short-cropped, rusty-red hair and a stiff posture.  She reminded Reynie of a giant walking pencil.

“’Pencils!’ the woman suddenly called out, as if she’d read his thoughts.

The children jumped in their seats.

‘Please lay down your pencils now,’ the pencil woman said. ‘The test is over.’

‘But I’m not finished!’ one child cried. ‘That’s not fair.’

‘I want more time!’ cried another.

The woman’s eyes narrowed. ‘I’m sorry you haven’t finished, children, but the test is over.  Please pass your papers to the front of the room, and remain seated while the tests are marked.  Don’t worry, it won’t take long.’

What made this book stand out for me though, was the central idea.  I feel this is a book about resourcefulness, of adapting, of finding your own special quality and making the most of it.  It’s a real heart-warming tale and I couldn’t read it fast enough.  I loved the way the children, who were strangers to begin with, bonded and cared so much for each other – even though none of them were cool, or rich, or trendy, or even in one case pleasant. This book celebrates the differences in all of us, it shows its that it’s great to run contrary to the demands of peer pressure and it shows that people who are different have not only a place but a very important role in society. It also shows that you don’t have to be clever to be great, that brilliance is not only about getting A’s in exams but it’s also about being able to think quickly and independently, look for new ways to do things and keep going no matter how difficult you think the task is.  All this is apparent to a grown-up like me, but I think what a child will see is a rip-roaring adventure with quirky puzzles and suspense on every page.

Since I began reading The Mysterious Benedict Society blog posts, reviews and ratings are springing up all over UK sites, and I’m very pleased about that.  It just shows how quickly word gets out when you find a book as good as this one.  I look forward to the next instalment.

 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart at Chicken House

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve has a full time job as a children's bookseller. She was, in fact, the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love then really has to be literature for children and teens, although she has been known to read grown-up books (not very often though - they didn't put in enough hours when they invented days). She especially loves to find brand new authors and is always on the lookout for a stunning début... Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website : EveHarvey.com

10 comments on “The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

  1. Lisa
    October 25, 2008

    This sounds fabulous, Eve. I will try to get hold of a copy. I LOVE the cover. And this: “people who are different have not only a place but a very important role in society” Preaching to the converted, my friend ;-)

    I’m loving your Saturday series, Eve, so keep up the good work!

  2. Jackie
    October 25, 2008

    The excerpt sounds fun, I like the descriptive style. And I applaud any author who highlights the various abilities & differences in people of any age & makes them into positive features. Good going!
    And I can see how this could easily become a series with a new adventure in each book. Hope that happens.
    I like the cover too, it’s playful, yet suitably mysterious. There’s a lot going on in those windows & I spent awhile studying them.

  3. Mantelli
    October 27, 2008

    Thanks for mentioning this book. I’ve just requested it and its sequel, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, from my wonderful local library consortium. You foxes have good taste!

  4. Moira
    October 27, 2008

    This is the sort of book I’d have loved as a youngster … it sounds as if it presses all the right buttons and it’s great to know they still write them.

    And I know it’s shallow … (I have shallows to my shallows you know)… but I just LOVE that cover.

  5. Nan
    October 27, 2008

    I found you from Random Jottings bloglist. This book sounds great and I’ve just found out it is in the local library. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks so much for the great review.

  6. Eve
    October 27, 2008

    Hello everyone :) Oooh I am so glad I have intrigued you all enough to read this book. It really is brilliant. And yes, it’s certainly reminiscent of books I read as a youngster.

    Lovely to see you all and thank you for commenting!

  7. ravi
    December 6, 2008

    i really injoyed this book i mean i could really relate myself to reynie muldoon

  8. Pingback: The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart « Jenny's Books

  9. Alice
    August 22, 2009

    Oh my god! I loved the first and second mysterious benedict society!
    I could so relate myself to Kate! It is so scary, like Trenton Lee Steward copied me or something! :D Love it!

  10. lauren kritteran
    October 1, 2010

    i thought this book was good in the beginning but not really in the end it lost interest on me

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This entry was posted on October 25, 2008 by in Entries by Eve and tagged , , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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