Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Heard: "Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict" by Trenton Lee Stewart

Heard: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2012, download.

Same narrator as the Mysterious Benedict Society series, Del Roy. The novel seems to be aimed at upper elementary aged readers.  The main characters are 9, 12, and 14 (I think). That 12-year-old age is a neat one because you're still reliant on home and family but starting to see what's out in the world and seeing how you could fit in.  You're dreams also feel more realistic and achievable but they can still be a bit far out there. This is one of those stories where the kids are mostly alone or bypassing the adults. The focus is on the kid dynamics, kinda like an Our Gang flick.

Nicholas is a 9-year-old orphan and a genius.  He remembers everything he reads, is very observant, and can figure things out.  Nicholas is also a narcoleptic who's sleep attacks are initiated by deep emotions: happiness, fear, shock.  Nicholas also has night terrors and his nightmares make him scream and howl in his sleep.

The novel starts with Nicholas being transferred from one orphanage to another. The last orphanage wants to move Nicholas on because his screams have driven people up the wall and his precocious brain power has gotten on the nerves of the staff. His train arrives at remote depot in the late summer evening where he is picked up by the dour orphanage director. Nicholas falls asleep in the car. Nicholas wakes in the car, parked at night, and meets John, a 12-year-old tasked to watch over the sleeping boy and show him around the manor that houses the orphanage.

John takes Nicholas inside the darkened building. (This is roughly post-WWII but it's a childrens novel so don't worry too much about the year.) The orphanage has money toruble and the director severely limits electricity use and relies on candles at night. John also warns Nicholas of The Spiders, a group of three older boys who torment the other children.

Nicholas has had a tough life. He has learned to present a very positive attitude and will quickly plaster a smile on his face when meeting someone new.  Nicholas keeps himself busy with books and thinking. If Nicholas knew what it was like to have a friend he'd be lonely. Especially when he finds out the orphanage director - who is completely tone-deaf to children and their needs - will be locking him into a single room at night Nicholas is not pleased but knows how to cope and has the brains to plot escape.

Nicholas discovers that the previous manor owners willed the house as an orphanage and that the man's diary lists a "treasure". The orphanage director is hunting for the treasure and Nicholas starts in himself. Nicholas plans to find the treasure - money, jewels, who knows - and strike out on his own.  Nicholas is already very cynical and believes no adult is kind or altruistic to strangers.

Nicholas is friends with John. Nicholas invites John on the hunt. John and Nicholas make friends with a girl living on a neighboring farm. Nicholas overcomes obstacles. Nicholas meets a kind man. Nicholas realizes not everyone is a jerk. Nicholas solves the treasure mystery which is not money. Nicholas stays at the orphanage.

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