October 2009

Whirlwind escape for four clever friends

By Trenton Lee Stewart
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When asked about their favorite element of The Mysterious Benedict Society novels, fans often cite the same thing: When it comes to Trenton Lee Stewart’s whirlwind adventure novels about four clever children, the key is characterization.

Stewart’s young heroes are endearingly and hilariously different. Though all sensitive and kind, each child has occasional bouts of grumpiness. (Who doesn’t? . . . particularly when at risk for being brainsweeped. More on that later.) Kate wears a tool-stuffed bucket strapped to her belt. Sticky memorizes call numbers of library books—the easier for doing research. Constance speaks in verse and reads minds. Reynie, the star of the series, and perhaps the plainest-looking of all his friends, is a whiz at solving riddles. No doubt that young readers will see themselves in at least one of the characters.

The third in Stewart’s best-selling series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, brings us Kate, Sticky, Constance and Reynie at their most developed yet. In addition to cracking puzzles and battling the evil Mr. Curtain, the children thoughtfully discuss actions and consequences, make sacrifices and explore themes of trust and forgiveness. They depend on one another and work together, and their loyalty to each other is steady and comfortable. One of the most touching moments in the novel comes when Kate discovers an escape route from where the children are held captive—but only she can handle the breakout. However, “She wasn’t about to leave her friends behind. She was ashamed even to have thought of it.”

Reynie and the gang are under house arrest with Mr. Benedict, the genius and kind man who brought the four children together in The Mysterious Benedict Society, the first book in the series. Benedict’s twin, Mr. Curtain—the villain of the series—wants to use his brainsweeping device, The Whisperer, to take over the world. Benedict and the kids do all that they can to hide from Mr. Curtain, although Reynie and his friends eventually end up as prisoners, forced to use teamwork and creative thinking to get out of a dangerous situation.

For many readers, the great strength of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma will be its rambunctious escape scenes; Stewart has a knack for building the action toward a climax, and Prisoner’s Dilemma is no exception. In his two previous Mysterious Benedict Society novels, the four children escape from the clenches of a madman in a tower; escape from an island; participate in an international chase. In this latest installment, the race against the evil Mr. Curtain and his group of thugs takes place in Third Island Prison.

Stewart has said that this novel will be the last in The Mysterious Benedict Society series. Readers will appreciate a conclusive ending to the Society’s three-book adventure. The novel, full of twists and heart-racing struggle, is a satisfying read.

Eliza Borné and Trenton Lee Stewart share a home state of Arkansas.

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