Friday, 13 April 2012
Review: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
Genre: Junior Fiction, Mystery, Adventure
Before Nicholas Benedict brought four unusual children together, he was just a lonely orphan himself, sent from one orphanage to another. While Nicholas’ mind might be extraordinary, his abnormally large nose and his narcolepsy make him a target for the other children. When nine-year-old Nicholas arrives at Rothschild Manor, he can only hope that things will become better for him. There, he makes a quick friend only to have him scared away by the orphanage bullies, the Spiders. With his photographic memory and canny ability to notice everything, no one has ever met a child like Nicholas. When he discovers that the former residents of the orphanage, the Rothschild’s, have a hidden treasure room, Nicholas wants to solve the mystery. Finding a hidden treasure would solve all of Nicholas’ problems and free him from the orphanage. Ever a mystery, Nicholas has much to learn before he becomes the founder of the Mysterious Benedict Society.
This is the prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, following the society’s leader when he was a brilliant child. I loved the first two books in the series, but felt disappointed in the final book. Left feeling unsatisfied with the ending, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, since prequels can be a hit or miss. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a clever book in which a mystery slowly unfolds as we get to see Nicholas start to become the person we know from the other books in the series. I was worried that Nicholas would be too similar to Reynie, but the two characters felt distinctly different. Nicholas is odd, but he’s always had to look after himself and is resourceful as well as brilliant. Nicholas has never known his parents, and is convinced that people are naturally bad, especially adults. As Nicholas learns more about the true nature of humans, he discovers what kind of person he wants to become. Although his uniqueness earns him his share of enemies, he also forms true friendships. In junior fiction, sometimes I find that conflicts are resolved with magical solutions. I liked how in this novel Nicholas learns how to live with some of his problems while resolving others on his own. He didn’t just make them disappear by turning back the clock or having someone cast a spell. At first, I didn’t know exactly what this book was about, aside from being about Nicholas Benedict. While dodging bullies, Nicholas tries to find a hidden treasure room in the orphanage. He researches the Rothchilds and pieces together the clues to find the truth about their treasure. Unlike in The Mysterious Benedict Society, there aren’t any codes and riddles, but I liked how all the pieces of the mystery came together in the end. I was really happy with the ending, although early on in the book it felt like things were moving slowly. While The Mysterious Benedict books are filled with codes and little mysteries, The Extraordinary Education is made up of one big mystery, and has no fantasy elements, unlike the trilogy. I think fans of the other books will enjoy this prequel, although you could easily read this book without knowing anything about the other books in the series. A great junior fiction book for anyone, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is an exciting story about a smart thinking boy who will grow into a truly great man.