Twelve years ago, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart introduced readers to a quartet of very remarkable children: the logical Reynie, the erudite Sticky, the adventurous Kate, and the obstinate Constance. Together, they outwitted the plots of an evil genius bent on controlling the world. The success of The Mysterious Benedict Society inspired a trend of quirky, puzzle-solving middle grade books. But, like many trendsetters, The Mysterious Benedict Society remained among the best. So I was thrilled to learn that, this September, Trenton Lee Stewart will be releasing a fourth book in the series: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages. And I knew that I would have to begin reading the original trilogy again.
The Mysterious Benedict Society remains so captivating because of its winning blend of characters, plot, and puzzles; but I suspect the characters have the most to do with the magic. The premise, you see, is simple (and perhaps unoriginal enough): the protagonists must work together to discover the plans of evil genius who wants to brainwash people so he can rule the world. But, when combined with puzzles the readers can solve along with the characters, and with a cast of characters so entirely sympathetic, the story seems destined to succeed.
The heart of the story is that all four members of the Mysterious Benedict Society are needed in order for their mission to succeed, even though they are different in many ways. Reynie is the real puzzle-solver of the group with his love of logic. Sticky is a walking encyclopedia, thanks in part to his photographic memory. Kate is athletic and possesses superior speed and agility–she does not worry about logic, but tends to solve problems physically. And Constance, well…she likes to contradict everyone and is a real nuisance. But, even so, readers are assured that every member of the society is necessary. Every member is valuable. Every member has something to contribute.
I love this blended group of protagonists because their differences give readers a chance to see themselves in one or more of them (My favorite is Reynie), but also remind readers that they don’t need to see themselves in some of the characters in order to relate to them, to sympathize with them, to support them. In fact, they do not even need to like some of the characters (*cough*Constance*cough*) to do this. Difference is what makes the group strong. Difference is not something to be erased or overcome or even, in some cases, understood. Rather, difference is something to be celebrated and embraced.
The Mysterious Benedict is, ultimately, a celebration of the things that make us unique and the friendships that make us strong. It says that we all need people to love and support us, and that we can go find those people if the ones currently in our lives are not kind. It says that hope and love always triumph in the end. Twelve years later, these messages still hold true.