Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
Age Range: 9-12
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma is the third book in Trenton Lee Stewart's series about four gifted children working for the reclusive genius Mr. Benedict. [Although I couldn't find any information to confirm this one way or the other, The Prisoner's Dilemma reads like it will be the last book in the series -- quite a few loose ends are wrapped up.]
The Prisoner's Dilemma finds Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance virtual prisoners in Mr. Benedict's mansion, potential targets for kidnapping by Mr. Benedict's power-mad brother, Mr. Curtain. Despite the best efforts of Mr. Benedict and the various parents and guardians of the children, the four eventually find themselves on their own, on the run. They have to use each of their unique talents to uncover Mr. Curtain's plot, and hopefully save themselves.
I love this series. The characters are all quirky and flawed, and (the good guys, anyway) incredibly loyal. The kids are unabashedly intelligent and resourceful. Their adventures are over-the-top and suspenseful, without (quite) straying into fantasy territory. The books are sprinkled with logical puzzles that readers can solve. In short, these are perfect books for middle grade readers, boys and girls. They are the books that most of us would have loved, and eagerly read, as children, if they had become available. Despite the importance of a few technological innovations, the books have a timeless feel to them, and I think that they'll be read for many years to come.
My favorite character in these books is Constance. Although all of the children play a part in The Prisoner's Dilemma, we learn the most new information about Constance, making this installment quite possibly my favorite of the series. Constance is a four-year-old (in book 3) orphan with staggering mental gifts and a notably irritable temperament. I love that she's grouchy and gets tired during stressful situations, and can read minds. I like the fact that her mental gifts actually make her more irritable, and that using them can make her physically ill. I like the idea that there is a price to pay for such gifts. And Constance makes me laugh.
Of course I appreciate the other kids, too. Reynie is responsible and quick-thinking, and the most sentimental of the children. Kate is strong, agile, and fearless. Sticky is a repository for facts, and a bundle of neuroses. Each child's skills are needed in The Prisoner's Dilemma, as they match wits with a clever enemy.
Stewart's writing is a nice blend of action and character description, with matter-of-fact humor thrown in. Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel:
"Constance scowled. It infuriated her when they tried to protect her. They couldn't help themselves, though, nor were their reasons entirely selfless: Constance was always difficult, but when she grew anxious she was perfectly unbearable." (Page 30)
"At this very moment Sticky was sitting beside him on the step, recounting a study he'd read on the "potentially salubrious effects of daydreams on mental health," and below them Constance was attempting to retie her shoes with her mittens still on, and Kate was there in the yard, spinning with her arms out wide and gazing up at her falcon in the sky.
Reynie took a mental picture, and saved it." (Page 36)
"He would have given a lot to be able to put those questions to Mr. Benedict, but since yesterday afternoon Mr. Benedict has spent every waking moment (and no doubt a few sleeping ones) down among the computers in the basement." (Page 91. It may help with appreciating this quote to know that Mr. Benedict has narcolepsy)
Fans of the series are sure to enjoy The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. It has an excellent mix of adventurous deeds, mental puzzles, and character development. Highly recommended for middle grade readers.
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Children's Book Guide, Reading to Know, Becky's Book Reviews (Has anyone else noticed that any book that I set out to review lately, Becky has reviewed it first? Nice to be in good company)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).