In the last few months, I’ve been living in denial.
“You can always reread them,” I said. “Life goes on.”
But it’s a sad fact: I don’t have any new adventures to look forward to at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. No new bungled transfiguration attempts. No more Quidditch. No more snide comments from Professor Snape.
But I’m happy to report that I’m on my way back. And this is thanks, partly, to The Mysterious Benedict Society.
There are no pointy hats or magic wands here, and certainly no Hogwarts. But there is a sense of delight similar to the early Potters. And once again, a group of bright, enterprising kids become friends while skulking around, dashing from enemies, puzzling over mysteries and, I almost forgot, saving the world.
And who wouldn’t want to share an adventure with the crew of Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall and Constance Contraire? Reynie is the group’s puzzler, and the story gives him—and the reader—plenty of mental knots to untie. Sticky is bald and nervous, but he can remember anything.
Kate is bold and athletic and on her belt wears a bucket filled with an assortment of items, including a horseshoe magnet, fishing line, a bottle of extra-strength glue, a slingshot and a spyglass disguised as a kaleidoscope.
Constance is so short and pudgy that Reynie thinks she resembles a fire hydrant. She’s as crabby as her name implies, and readers will think, “What’s with her?” They’ll find out in a wonderful surprise near the end.
“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” This is the newspaper advertisement that attracts our four heroes.
They join lots of other children in a series of quirky tests. They take a sit-down written exam with absurdly difficult questions–until Reynie notices that the answers to each question are hidden in the text of other questions.
Later, they are instructed to cross a tiled room without their feet touching any yellow squares. On their way to one exam, they’re faced with another challenge, in the form of a girl, supposedly another test-taker, who has dropped her pencil in a grate. Will they help her, and how, since they were instructed to bring one pencil only.
When only Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance remain, they meet Mr. Benedict, a loveable genius who has figured out that a nearby school for gifted children is sending strange brainwashing messages into the world.
In between sudden bouts of sleep—Mr. Benedict is a narcoleptic—he asks the four to enroll in the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to find out what is happening and stop it. They agree and The Mysterious Benedict Society is formed.
It’s hard to say more without giving anything away. But the children will not succeed without each contributing his or her unique talents. Along the way, they climb elevator shafts, send and receive Morse Code messages and create a vomiting epidemic among their fellow students.
Parts of this book will remind readers of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and in a spot or two, A Wrinkle in Time. The tone isn’t as maudlin, but it will also appeal to Lemony Snicket fans who are missing that series.
With any luck, author Trenton Lee Stewart will plan to make a series out of this one, too.