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Book Review

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewrt has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "The Mysterious Benedict Society" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Reynie Muldoon feels out of place at the Stonetown Orphanage. Only his tutor, Miss Perumal, provides any sort of friendship or intellectual stimulation. When she spies an ad in the paper offering gifted children "special opportunities," she convinces Reynie to apply.

Reynie and only three other children pass the series of sneaky and difficult tests. When Reynie speaks with the other kids — a timid, bald boy named George "Sticky" Washington, an acrobatic girl named Kate and a short, grouchy girl named Constance — he discovers they were all offered test answers but all refused to cheat. He also learns they each used different skills and methods to accomplish the same tasks.

The children meet Mr. Benedict, the man responsible for the testing. He praises them for their talents and their love of truth, and he asks them to help him on an important spy mission. A man named Ledroptha Curtain, working out of a nearby school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (LIVE), is transmitting strange, subliminal messages through the airwaves. He uses children's voices for his cryptic messages. Already, important government officials have gone missing as a result of Curtain's endeavors. Benedict suspects that Curtain is preparing to ramp up his efforts very soon, possibly causing danger to citizens on a much larger scale. Benedict needs the children to pose as institute students and discover Curtain's plans. The children are all orphans or runaways, so no one forbids them to accept the mission.

LIVE is located on an island. Benedict and his small team of adults devise a method for watching the children with telescopes and communicating with them from the mainland using flashlights and Morse code. The children poke around the grounds and work their way up in the student ranks to learn more about Curtain's schemes. When Reynie and Sticky earn the rank of Messenger, they become privy to some of Curtain's secrets. He shows them the machine he's created called The Whisperer. Messengers sit in the Whisperer chair, hooked up to wires. There, they record the mysterious phrases Curtain sends through TV and radio frequencies. Sitting in The Whisperer makes people forget their greatest fears. It's so comforting that Reynie and Sticky must fight not to give in to its calming powers. Curtain believes he can become a great world leader in two steps. First, he will subliminally cause everyone to fear the "emergencies" all around them. Then he will use the Whisperer technology to allay their fears and give them the perception of peace. He imagines that the world will love him and call on him to solve all of their woes. He intends to "brainsweep" (or, erase the memories of) anyone who fails to embrace his efforts.

The kids (who have dubbed themselves The Mysterious Benedict Society) learn that Curtain is about to intensify his messages. Soon, no one on earth will be able to resist his mind control. They taint the cafeteria food so most of the staff and students get food poisoning. Curtain is forced to call upon his only two healthy Messengers, Reynie and Sticky, to finish his project. As the boys attempt to foil Curtain's plans from within his control room, Constance and Kate battle staff members and try to infiltrate the tower that houses The Whisperer. Benedict and his team come to the island to rescue the children. Benedict (who has recently discovered he is Curtain's long lost twin) convinces The Whisperer he is Curtain. He then disables the machine.

In the days that follow, the government shuts down LIVE. Benedict decides to adopt Constance, and Miss Perumal adopts Reynie. One of Benedict's team members, whom Curtain brainswept long ago, turns out to be Kate's long lost father. Sticky, a runaway, reunites with his parents.

Christian Beliefs

Kate says a prayer as she prepares to save her friends.

Other Belief Systems

One of Mr. Benedict's messages from the mainland refers to the zodiac sign, Gemini. He's trying to get the kids to realize Curtain is his twin. The kids often rely on luck, wishing each other luck and not discussing certain things out of a fear that it may bring bad luck. Curtain says his plan is similar to using magic words to coax a genie from a bottle. When Constance appears at the moment Reynie is thinking of her, he says it's as if he'd conjured her.

Authority Roles

Benedict is a lovable, narcoleptic man who recognizes his responsibility to save the world from Curtain's fear-mongering. Though he uses young children to carry out his plan, he does not force them to participate. He and his team monitor them constantly and strive to keep them safe. Curtain, on the other hand, steals memories, capitalizes on fear and works on mind control to achieve personal greatness. He uses kids to do his dirty work and puts those who cross him in a dark, muddy, bug-infested pit called the waiting room. Miss Perumal feels sympathy for Reynie, enjoys his company and looks out for his future. Sticky runs away when his parents pressure him to use his intelligence for their personal gain. In the end, Benedict convinces Sticky that his parents were being deluded by Curtain's mind control, because since then, they have spent all their wealth looking for Sticky.


Some of Mr. Curtain's assistants kick and beat on Kate while she's trying to save the others. She's bruised and bloodied.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying/Cheating: Benedict tests each of the children by having someone offer them answers to the exam. The children fight the temptation to cheat, and Benedict later tells them that they were chosen partly for their "love of truth." When the kids are at LIVE, Mr. Benedict advises them to cheat in order to expedite the mission. Since it is against all of their natures, the children have to practice cheating. Lying is also difficult for them, but they do it several times for the purpose of helping stop Mr. Curtain's evil endeavors.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 and up


Trenton Lee Stewart






Record Label



Little, Brown and Company in conjunction with the Hachette Book Group USA


On Video

Year Published



E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers, 2008; Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 2009


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