Would you say you are a gifted child? Your gift does not have to be in school, you could be a gifted soccer player, a gifted dancer, or even a gifted Rubik's Cube solver. Reynie Muldoon is a very gifted child, though on the surface he seems perfectly average. He has average hair, average clothes, and average skin. But his mind is far above average, and he loves to read and solve puzzles. If Reynie had an average family, his life might have been much different than it turned out to be. But Reynie is an orphan, with a private tutor named Miss Perumal. If he was not at the orphanage, Reynie might have been able to attend a prestigious school, earn college credits, and go to a renowned college. But then, if he had grown up in an average family, he never would have become part of the Mysterious Benedict Society.
The whole tale begins when an advertisement appears in the paper. It is directed to gifted children looking for special opportunities, and it gives directions for how to take a specific test. If the child passes the test, they will get special opportunities. Miss Perumal encourages Reynie to take the test, and he agrees. After the test, he is the only child who passes in his group, and he is told that he must go on to phase two of the test. The exact same thing happens after phase two. He is the only one in his group that passes, and he must go on to phase three. Just before phase three, he meets the three other children who managed to pass the test: Sticky Washington, Kate Wetheral, and Constance Contraire. Sticky seems to be the brightest boy Reynie has ever met, with a perfect memory of everything he ever read or saw. Kate may not have astounding academic abilities, but she was once in the circus, and she is an old hand at walking on her hands, balancing across a tightrope, and all other types of acrobatics. Then there’s Constance, a grumpy poet who seems as though she will be the weak link in their group—until she turns out to be the most key player. Each of the children are somewhat peculiar in their own way, but Reynie likes all of them, and he feels that—given the chance—the four of them could be quite good friends.
It turns out that they will be given that chance, though not in the way that they expected. Because the man behind the tests and the advertisement in the paper, a man named Mr. Benedict, has a very important mission that must be done quickly. And it just so happens that Reynie, Sticky, Constance, and Kate are the only people able to complete the mission.
So, the children form their secret agent group, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and the mission begins. They must communicate with Mr. Benedict in the dead of night, using morse code, flashlights, and riddles. But as they get closer and closer to answers, they begin to wonder if they are too late to stop what must come?
The Mysterious Benedict Society is gripping from cover to cover. The mystery unfolds slowly, but not so slowly that the book is boring. The characters come to life upon the pages, and their relationships are both well thought out and often hilarious (especially in the case of a certain Miss Contraire). I loved this book from the moment I picked it up, and I have since returned to it many times. It’s one of those books that is wonderful the first time you read it, but even better the second, third, and fourth times because you notice things that you missed the first time.
I would recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society to almost anyone. Some people think the beginning is boring, but I would encourage you to read through, because it just gets better. The characters, plot, and theme are so rich and well thought out that it makes the story one to come back to time and time again.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!