The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

by Trenton Lee Stewart

Trenton Lee Stewart's The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Children's book review by Sarah Denslow

Ages 8-11

I wanted The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict to be better than it was. That’s not to say that Trenton Lee Stewart’s latest novel was bad, or even disappointing. In fact, I enjoyed this prequel to the popular Mysterious Benedict Society series. (Webmaster's note: Also reviewed by Sarah.)

However, as is unfortunately often the case with prequels and sequels, this book was not as good as the original series.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict tells the story of a brief period in Nicholas Benedict’s childhood. Readers of the original series will recognize the highly intelligent character by his characteristic high-pitched laugh and his unusually shaped nose.

The first chapter tells of Nick’s arrival at a new orphanage. Surely, he thinks, this one can’t be any worse than the last. He soon finds out, of course, that it can. Between being locked in his room every night and getting on the wrong side of a gang of bullies, Nick finds life to be less than easy at his new home.

On the other hand, Nick has the kind of genius that allows him to fashion a skeleton key in order to

  1. sneak out of his room at night,
  2. carefully escape most of the bullies’ intended torments, and
  3. begin a hunt for a mysterious long lost treasure.

Nicholas eyes the keyhole

The book ends nicely too: Nick not uses his intellect to solve many of the orphanage’s problems and locate the treasure, but he also has some rather sweet moral reflections on the importance of helping others.

My disappointment with this book is not in either the beginning or the end, but in the middle part - the very, very long middle part - of the book.

The narrative consists primarily of descriptions of Nick’s surroundings and actions, and there are many reminders of just how smart he is, which starts to feel repetitive after a while.

There’s not a lot of dialogue, because Nicholas is so often isolated he rarely has anyone to dialog with. Certainly, this creates sympathy for his plight, but it also creates a good deal of slow-paced prose.

Nevertheless, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict still makes for an enjoyable read, even for those who have not read The Mysterious Benedict Society, and fans of the original series will no doubt be pleased as punch to hear more from Stewart and his whimsical world of child geniuses.

Read more of Sarah's reviews.

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