The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict,
by Trenton Lee Stewart; Little, Brown and
Company: New York, 2012; $17.99
The first thing I noticed about this book was that it is the newest installment of The Mysterious Benedict Society series, one of my favorites. I inwardly groaned because, in my opinion, the series had come to a conclusion in the previous book. I did not look forward to reading a book with a dull, over-stretched plot. However, upon reading the back cover, I discovered that it was a prequel about the childhood of Nicholas Benedict, an important yet minor character in the other books. I think it was very wise of Trenton Lee Stewart to elaborate upon Nicholas’s life, as knowing more about him really enhances the plot of the other books.
In this prequel, youthful Nicholas is an orphan, traveling to a new orphanage under the supervision of Mrs. Ferrier, a “plump old woman with enormous spectacles.” Nicholas himself is an undersized nine-year-old genius with a huge nose. And, most importantly of all, he has narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder that makes him see terrifying figures in the dark of night and nod off to sleep at the most ridiculous times. In the opening scene, this odd twosome is traveling by train to meet Mr. Collum, the director of “Child’s End” (really “Rothschild’s End,” named after its founders, also “The Manor”). Here, Nicholas is to live. Nicholas finds that the orphanage is a rough place to live, but he will soon find a few friends and one immense, old, and deliciously tempting mystery—but it looks like he might not be the only one trying to crack this puzzle!
One reason I loved this book so much is that I could relate to some of the situations, making the story more personal. Nicholas’s constant moving reminded me of how, in the past three years, I have moved twice. Of course, moving with my family is nothing like being an orphan, going from one horrible orphanage to another, but I felt a connection nevertheless.
I also identify with some of the characters. For instance, Nicholas and I share an immense love of books. I would have reacted exactly as he did when he first saw the library (he almost fell asleep from the shock!). I also read relatively fast, but nowhere as fast as Nicholas, who reads hundred-page volumes in minutes! From the story, I learned quite a bit about narcolepsy. I think that it was very clever of the author to weave so many facts into this story.
Although I really enjoyed this book, I think that if the book were written in a diary format, it would be possible to convey more of the characters’ feelings and thoughts than with the third-person-narrator style of the book. I also found this series to be very similar to The Secret Series (The Name of This Book Is Secret, etc.).
Overall, this book is a well-written, fast-paced novel with a suspenseful plot that works like superglue—you just can’t put this book down! I especially liked how it combines real-life issues with pleasure to create a fun but also very meaningful book that I’m sure, in days to come, will be enjoyed by many mystery-loving children and adults alike!