The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict--Trenton Lee Stewart
April 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Before there was a Mysterious Benedict Society, there was simply a boy named Nicholas Benedict. Meet the boy who started it all....
Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has more problems than most children his age. Not only is he an orphan with an unfortunate nose, but he also has narcolepsy, a condition that gives him terrible nightmares and makes him fall asleep at the worst possible moments. Now he's being sent to a new orphanage, where he will encounter vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances -- and a mystery that could change his life forever. Luckily, he has one important thing in his favor: He's a genius.
On his quest to solve the mystery, Nicholas finds enemies around every corner, but also friends in unexpected places -- and discovers along the way that the greatest puzzle of all is himself.
Like The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (Stewart seems to like long titles) is a fun adventure with some good old fashioned puzzle solving and quirky characters. It is fun. Not quite as much fun as the first book, but fun.
The puzzle solving is intriguing, and I was able to keep up it without the puzzles being so simple so that I had the end figured out from the beginning. This is one of the best parts of the series; it's what we like about mysteries. And a little outwitting of the bullying Spiders can't go amiss either.
The background information we get on Nicholas is deeper than I expected. He goes from disillusionment and loneliness to believing in human decency and unselfishness. However, I miss the interaction between multiple extraordinary characters. Sticky, Reynie, Kate, and Constance made such a great team, each with their own unique personalities and gifts. In contrast, John and Violet are rather ordinary. They are kind but not terribly interesting. Nick solves the mystery almost entirely on his own, whereas in the other books, the kids could not have saved the day without Constance's stubbornness or Sticky's memory.
The book also relies too much on Nick happening to be in just the right place at the right time. I know that has to happen some, but it happened too much to be plausible. The plot doesn't overuse Nick's photographic memory, which was a problem with Sticky's character in the rest of the series.
It was a fun book, but it never held my attention so firmly that I couldn't put it down or I was over anxious to pick it up again. It's great for fans of the series, but the first book was better.