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Benedict provokes mystery

While child geniuses are often expected to have extraordinary vocabularies or start college early, adults rarely call upon them to save the world.

However, this is just what child genius Reynie Muldoon and his three brainy friends are asked to accomplish in the March 2007 children’s novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Muldoon answers to a strange advertisement beginning: “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”

After completing a series of strange tests, he meets Sticky, Constance, and Kate, who will become his closest friends as they embark on a dangerous mission.

The four child geniuses are gathered by Mr. Benedict, a strange but kind man who wants to defeat an enemy only he can perceive: the Sender, who desires to take over the world by “brainsweeping” people through hidden messages in television, radio, and cell phone transmissions.

The children go undercover at The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the more experienced students, called Messengers, are used as a go-between for subliminal messaging. The Sender must use a child’s mind to transmit his chosen messages to the world, using the mysterious “Whisperer” machine.

The designated heroes of the novel must discover the Sender’s secrets and prevent him from destroying the memories of everyone on Earth. The story chronicles their many adventures towards a dramatic climax, wherein they must destroy “the Whisperer” machine, and escape with their lives.

At first glance, Stewart’s first attempt at a children’s novel appears immature because of the use of phrases such as “save the world” and “brainwash the entire planet”. The plot has many improbable twists and facts, yet still presents many human characteristics common in true life situations.

Mr. Curtain, the actual name of the Sender, utilizes fear and control as the keys to build his Institute and generally destroy people and their minds.

The relationship of the four children is also realistic: once strangers, they must combine their talents and bravery to overcome an evil, yet slightly stereotypical, villain. Muldoon and his companions put aside their personal safety to achieve a common goal.

I found the book a captivating read; countless surprises and cliff-hangers kept me interested throughout the 480-page novel.

In one instance, Sticky is sent to The Waiting Room, an unknown but terrible place, for cheating on a quiz. Without even seeing the iniquitous Mr. Curtain, he returns terrified and covered in mud!

While the plot is thought-provoking and the characters endearing, I considered the middle section somewhat depressing. The heroes are constantly on enemy grounds, and could be caught and brain-swept at any time. With such a serious plot, Stewart makes a large portion of the story extremely tense.

Despite the dark undertones, The Mysterious Benedict Society was an immensely enjoyable read. The characters and plot lend themselves well to readers who enjoy character study paired with a good mystery.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is available at Barnes and Noble for approximately $17. For online buying, check out Amazon.

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    Scott JenningsDec 12, 2009 at 6:45 am

    What the heck McCormick? Why would you go to a teacher’s house? Don’t you see them enough during a school year?

    Just kidding looked like fun.