The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
By Trenton Lee Stewart
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Before the Mysterious Benedict Society, there was simply a young orphan named Nicholas Benedict. He's about to start a new journey at a new orphanage, Rothschild's End, and he doesn't expect it to go any better than the last. You see, Nicholas is quite an unusual child - he has an awfully long nose, he's terribly smart and precocious, and he has a condition of which not much is known - narcolepsy. But Child's End holds a secret that is irresistible to Nicholas - a story of a hidden treasure! Can Nicholas solve the mystery and find the treasure, perhaps putting an end to his days at the orphanage?
I was very excited when I heard about this book - I loved the Mysterious Benedict Society series and was excited for a new addition. I was also especially pleased to discover this would be a prequel (my reason for reviewing it here without having reviewed the other titles) - I hadn't enjoyed the third book in the series as much, so this offered a nice change of pace. And, to me, it's always fascinating to read about how a character you think you know became the person you've read about. I really enjoyed getting to know young Nicholas Benedict - nothing in his story really came as a surprise for me, having read the other books, but it was very satisfying to read about his development. I loved the mystery here and the promise it held for Nicholas - a chance to finally escape the torment and solitude he's been surrounded by his entire life. I thought Violet was a terrific character as well - different than we've seen before. The mystery here is a bit different as well - there are no codes or riddles for readers to try to solve alongside Nicholas, but I suppose a diligent reader could solve the mystery of the treasure as Nicholas uncovers more and more information. For me, these books, though intimidating in length, breeze by. I think these books reward their readers with a sense of accomplishment - yes, you've just finished this rather large book, but you've also read quite an excellent book that may have taught you some lessons along the way. I like Nicholas' approach to problem-solving and I think kids will find this appealing as well. The thirst for middle-grade mysteries seems to be ever-increasing and these books should be recommended heartily, this title being no exception.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.