Are you a gifted child looking for Special Opportunities?" This curious newspaper ad catches the eye of orphan Reynie Muldoon. After taking exams that test both mind and spirit, Reynie is selected along with four other contestants--Sticky Washington, a nervous child with a photographic memory; irrepressible Kate Weatherhill; and a tiny child who lives up to her name, Constance Contraire. The children soon learn they've been chosen by mysterious Mr. Benedict for an important mission: they are to infiltrate the isolated Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, from which messages of distrust and compliance are being broadcast into the minds of the world's citizens.
Debut novelist Stewart takes some familiar conventions--among them, an orphan struggling against evil forces (Harry Potter, anyone?)--and makes them his own. But like the Potter books, his story goes beyond mere adventures, delving into serious issues, such as the way sloganeering can undermine society--or control it. Through its interesting characters, the book also tackles personal concerns: abandonment, family, loyalty, and facing one's fears. The novel could have been shortened, but Stewart writes with such attention to the intricacies of plot and personality, his story rarely feels slow; only a significant disclosure about Constance seems forced. Smart kids who like Blue Balliet's books are the natural audience for this; but, read aloud, the novel will attract many others as well. Illustrations to come. Ilene Cooper
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1. Mysterious Benedict Society
2. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
3. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
There is also the book MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY: MR. BENEDICT'S BOOK OF PERPLEXING PUZZLES, ELUSIVE ENIGMAS, AND CURIOUS CONUNDRUMS