It's been a long time since I reviewed a book so I thought it was time to do another one. This time it's a book I actually liked. A lot. So instead of giving a flame review I'll be doing a lot of fangirling.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.
The title alone is what made me read this book. It sounded mysterious (of course), brainy, sophisticated, cute in a kiddy way, and a little on the old classic side, which is one of my major preferences.
It is cute and kiddy—and without verging into vulgarity (which far too many kids' books do) or cheap thrills. Hitting a happy medium between I-can't-follow-what's-going-on-in-this-story and I-know-what's-going-to-happen-by-the-end-of-page-one is difficult, but this story hit it pretty well. I was able to see some of the twists coming but was surprised many times by the turn things took. Also the kids had fun. I mean, sure it was scary and dangerous and they actually got hurt several times, but some of their clever plots (like making every kid in their school get sick) were good fun mischief while still having a tactical purpose. Some kids never have fun in books and just angst the whole time, which is boring.
I didn't like all the characters, but enough of them to still enjoy the story. Mr. Benedict started out as basically the Gandalf of the story but managed to get in enough heroism to justify having him in there. The main characters, though kid geniuses, had enough faults and weaknesses to make them likable and believable and were able to outwit the bad guy without making him look like a complete idiot.
What's not to like? Unfortunately the author head-hops with his point of view and it gets confusing. He also gives all the characters names that reflect their personalities, which makes the story world less believable (although the idea is still pretty cool). The main plot point—kids have to stop evil genius from destroying the world with his dastardly invention—is pretty stock and not particularly fascinating, nor is the way the villain plans to destroy the world—by infiltrating peoples' minds. It's been done. Yawn.
BUT... It was still a great story with plenty of mind-bending and heart-warming moments. And Mr. Benedict's house was a really cool place to live.
"Are you brave?"
Just reading the words quickened Reynie's heart. Was he brave? Bravery had never been required of him, so how could he tell?
...Finally he gave up trying to decide and simply wrote, "I hope so."
Milligan. He scores points for a) being a boss secret agent who shoots people with tranquiliser darts and b) having amnesia and a tragic backstory.
Reynie and Sticky. I can't pick which I like best because they're both great for different reasons. Reynie is really good at solving puzzles and also has a cool name (it means fox), but I connect more with Sticky's personality (although not with his phenomenal memory; my memory skills resemble an amnesiac's).
Mr. Benedict. I like his green plaid suit. And he deserves a mention because he has a cool name, a cool house, and a cool disorder that makes him fall asleep all the time.
Mr. Curtain. He's a villain who wears reflective sunglasses and scoots around in a scary electric wheelchair. That deserves at least an E for effort.
S.Q. He fits snugly into the role of the lovable bumbling baddie (and of course he's not really bad at all; just misled). I found him both humourous and endearing.
This book will probably go on my shelf someday. It was far more clever than most kids' fiction, with an interesting story line and some very quotable quotes. It doesn't seem to be very well-known and that's sad since it really deserves more notice.