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 does have one thing in his favor: He's a 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.
Good Reading Review
This prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society series is perhaps even more enjoyable than the series itself. It's about a very endearing young Nicholas Benedict and his adventures at a new orphanage. It almost feels like being back at Hogwarts. There's something captivating about following a new kid at a big, old fashioned school that is part fascinating and part scary, part welcoming and part awe-inspiring. Add to that some down-to-earth friends, some plotting enemies, some ambiguous teachers and some mysterious predecessors (who've planted a treasure) and it's the perfect spell.
It's hard not to like Nicholas. In this book he goes from being a good person to becoming an even better person (you may even cry by the end). It's impressive that this change was inspired by seeing the striking goodness of a particular adult, something that almost feels novel for a children's book.
Nicholas also makes 'super intelligence' look like so much fun. You can't help but want to imitate him with his extraordinary memory, his astuteness in observing things and tuning in to detail, and his capacity for detecting what other people need.
There is some realistic friendship development, particularly with one boy who sometimes lacks the courage to stand up for his friend for fear of drawing the attention of the baddies to himself. But once he faces his weakness he is able to overcome it, and the friendship becomes deeper than before.
And the story conveys a profound appreciation for the treasure of books, especially with Nicholas' talent for reading a large one in 10 mins and memorising the entire thing! Wouldn't that be wonderful...