An odd group of adults, including Mr. Benedict, his two live-in assistants, and his usually not at home spy, contrive to attract and collect an odd group of children, each with a unique and stunning set of abilities, in order to enlist them in a dangerous and critically important adventure. Then they do that again and again several times until there are four volumes of this engaging, must read story.
I would argue that The Mysterious Benedict Society series is Harry Potter level YA lit.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Steward is an award winning young adult mystery series dating to the last half of the 2010s.
The process of introducing the characters and the story settings results in a hilarious first third of the first book in the series, then it settles down a bit. The side-plot twist found in the first volume (no spoilers) is one of the most gut-wrenching I’ve ever read, as in my gut is wrenched because I’m laughing so hard. The plots are good and quirky and the the characters are quirky good.
Oddly, the books teach that families can be made up of people that are not really related, and that at the same time some of the most closely related people can be so opposite that one can embody true good and one can embody true evil. There is nothing too edgy here for kids, the only lower limit on age is the complexity of the plots. There are very vague generic parallels to the Harry Potter series, in that unrelated kids become thick as thieves, and do battle against a powerful enemy who seems to not be defeated again and again. Unlike Harry Potter the characters don’t really age through a long period of time, though there is definitely growth and development. Then suddenly they are adults in the last book.
A key feature of the stories is the frequent need to solve puzzles or interpret vague clues in order to save someone, get away from the bad guys, etc. One of the characters is extremely good at figuring out riddles. Another has a didactic memory and reads a lot, so he simply knows everything, at a factual level. Another character exhibits stunning physicality for a kid, and will climb to the top of a building or through a series of vents to discover the answer to a question while the other kids are busy thinking it through. The fourth kid’s main super power is to be very whining and complaining, and she is also unnaturally clumsy. These features end up being startlingly important, though it takes a while to figure out how. The four children survive and solve the mysteries they are faced with by being different, each contributing something unique to the problem, while the Mysterious Mr. Benedict himself seems to have the big picture in mind, but not in control, the whole time.
The story is laid out in four books following the same main characters. Then, there is a prequel that explores the origin of the main adult character (Mr. Benedict himself). A sixth book is a collection of puzzles and fun activities that are inspired by the riddle and mystery based nature of the books themselves.
I’ll also mention that there is yet another book not in the same series but with a similar look and feel (but I have not yet read it) by the same author. I’ll include it in the list below.
You can get a a boxed set of these books (as far as I know in paperback) but that won’t include the quiz book. I found a very good used copy of each of the books in hardcover. If you know a family with kids between 8 and 14 (roughly) who don’t have these books, this is an excellent Covid-era bunch of reading for a holiday gift. Start it in mid January, finish them all, then go get your Covid vaccination!
The Mysterious Benedict Society Books In Order
with links to Amazon*
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages
Prequel: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
Activity book: The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious
The other book by Trenton Lee Steward: The Secret Keepers