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?
I’m sure this book will be compared to Harry Potter. It’s not a total rip-off or anything, but there were enough common elements to be distracting.
For example: the main character, Reynie, is eleven. And an orphan. But what could be better than one 11-year-old orphan? Four of them! Well, the kids are not all technically orphans, but their parents are not in the picture, at least. They each have different strengths and traits, which evokes the House system at Hogwarts. Reynie’s a Hufflepuff, Kate’s a Gryffindor, Sticky’s a Ravenclaw… They have a member on their team they don’t entirely trust, and the old, doddering leader dude assures them she’ll be helpful, but doesn’t disclose his reasons for including her, reminding one of Dumbledore and Snape to some degree.
Some children’s fiction authors seem to feel obligated to impart messages unto their readers. Featured in The Mysterious Benedict Society are: friends can become your family, don’t let fear cripple you, there’s no shame in accepting help… and TV and radio are evil (those with an “uncommon love of truth” have no interest in either).
The real problem, however, is that the book is boring. Drudgery would be an apt description for the effort required to finish it. The concept, somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes (creepy headmaster needs children for a nefarious plan), is a good one but the execution could put one to sleep.