© Trenton Lee Stewart.
Reynie Muldoon is a very smart orphan boy living and going to school in the Stonetown Orphanage. His favorite place is the school library, and his only real friend is his tutor, Miss Perumal. Except for her and his books, Reynie’s life is pretty miserable. One day, Miss Perumal points out an ad in the local paper that begins, “ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?” Before long, Reynie finds himself taking a series of unusual and challenging tests along with other applicants (and we readers can take them, too.) And not long after that, Reynie finds himself teamed with three other smart children, but each very different from the others, on a secret mission to investigate an island in Stonetown harbor from which mysterious and dangerous messages are being broadcast to the entire world, causing much trouble and distress. The engineer of this enterprise is a Mr. Benedict, hence the team’s name.
I won’t go any further into the plot, but I think you can see this is a fun and exciting adventure story with plenty of puzzles and mysteries to be solved, villainous characters to overcome, and excitingly dangerous situations to survive. The puzzle aspect reminded me a bit of “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin, and the adventures reminded me a little of “Peter Graves” by William Pene duBois, both fine books. The illustrations by Carson Ellis that begin each chapter are well done, and particularly delightful to me because each contains some fine hand-lettering in a variety of different styles.
The only thing I didn’t like in this author’s first children’s novel was some of the names, which are distractingly punny. “Ledroptha Curtain,” for instance. The characters themselves are all well-developed and real enough, though, so I was able to overlook that most of the time. It’s a good story, with enough plot twists and turns to keep me guessing, valid insights into the world it portrays, which is somewhat like our own, but with a science-fictional edge and at times a slightly Roald Dahl-ish satirical feel. I enjoyed it, empathized with Reynie and his friends, admired their pluck, and enjoyed seeing them figure their way through the maze of mysteries. Not a deep book, but a satisfying one, and miles better than the Tom Swift or Hardy Boys sort of adventures I ate up as a child. Recommended!