Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2007
Hardcover, 492 pages
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, YA
Synopsis (via Goodreads): "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all? Welcome to the Mysterious Benedict Society.
My review: This is a cute book with fun characters and a very quirky adventure. Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, the four children who one way or another pass the tests, make a great team, every child having unique strengths and weaknesses that make each essential to the others. Reynie is easiest to identify with and it is his perspective the narrative is most frequently told from. I like Reynie a lot, what with his sweet temperament, intelligence, occasional melancholia, and fierce loyalty. The rest of the children are much more far-fetched, though Sticky is quite lovable, Kate brave, and Constance hilariously stubborn. Mr. Benedict is the mastermind behind the tests and the mission the children must go on, and while he is a very likable character he is hard to get to know from the reader's perspective. I suppose as far as Mr. Benedict goes, I was expecting better character development. I hope, though, that since this book is only the first in a series the author has in later books evolved his character to a much more satisfactory degree as well as given the reader more history on him.
The story line meanders along pretty slowly, and while the ending is decent it is inevitable and lacking in excitement. I understand this is children's/YA fiction, so it's not going to be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller, but I was expecting something a little more lively. Also, this book is almost 500 pages long and tells a story that, with a good editor, could easily have been told in 200-300 pages. I enjoyed this book but it didn't inspire strong feelings in me, hence the three star rating. I plan on reading the other three books in the series because the first did inspire curiosity, I really like the illustrations, and I'm hoping that Mr. Stewart has resolved some of the issues present in the first. If you really like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Roald Dahl's children's fiction, The Borrowers books, etc. and have a lively imagination and a semblance of patience, I suggest you read The Mysterious Benedict Society. If faster-paced adventure/fantasy books such as the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson series are more your thing, though, I would probably pass on this one.