Listened to: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2007, downloaded from Overdrive.com.
Boy #1 took swimming lessons this past summer. I would usually try and bring something to read. but most often ended up dozing away in the too hot building. One day I grabbed the wrong book and ended up with the print version of this novel. I got hooked within the first few pages and checked out the audio version when I saw it on Overdrive. The first few pages were still interesting but the story did not live up to that initial promise. The ending gave quite a few surprises though.
Reynard is an orphan, about 11 years old, and extremely intelligent. His life in the orphanage is dismal except for his female tutor. One day he answers a newspaper ad, "Are you a gifted child looking for Special Opportunities?". Rennie passes a series of strange and bewildering exams and is selected along with three other kids: Sticky, Kate, and Constance. All four kids are orphans, smart, and talented. They are selected by Mr. Benedict, a narcoleptic scholar and former orphan himself. Benedict tells them of a secret plot that has been sending cryptic brainwashing messages over the television airwaves. Those airwaves are behind the Emergency that has been going on for years. Benedict has recruited the four kids to be secret agents and pose as students in a private school where the messages are emanating from.
The kids get brief training from Benedict and his staff and get to know one another. The kids are almost captured by "recruiters" from the private school.
All four enlist in the academy run by Mr. Curtain - who turns out the be Mr. Benedict's twin. Curtain dislikes children and the bizarre and contradictory lessons the kids are learning make no sense. The kids investigate quietly. The kids fight evil "executives" who run the school and act as teachers. The kids communicate with Mr. Curtain's group via Morse Code. We learn about the kids. The kids have conflict within their group. The kids discover Curtain's sinister plan to take over the government. The kids defeat Curtain. Curtain escapes. The kids rejoin Benedict. Reynard is adopted by his tutor. Sticky is reunited with his parents. Kate finds her lost father. Constance is adopted by Benedict.
My problems: 1- This book seemed watered down compared to the darkness and true danger in the Lemony Snicket novels. I didn't feel the threat to the kids in Mysterious like I did in the Unfortunate Events novels.
2 - The clean and happy ending was nice and not unexpected but, again in comparison to Unfortunate, was overdone for more.
My Likes: 1- I did not expect the reunion between Kate and her father. Kate's father had disappeared years before and lost his memory. He had already appeared, unrecognized, as a helper of Mr. Benedict.Sticky's reunion with his parents was also unexpected but a nice touch.
3- The mysterious technology angle.
4- The amazing memory of Sticky and the brain power of Reynard. The ingenuity of Kate.
5- The revelation of Constance's age.