The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict Book Review

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has a host of problems from being an orphan to a rather large and unfortunate nose. The worst by far though is his narcolepsy, which causes him to fall asleep any time he gets too excited, scared, or happy. At a new orphanage, Nicholas hopes he can change his image, but soon finds himself neck deep in a mystery that will tax his considerable genius-like abilities.

I have never read the Mysterious Benedict Society series, in which I can only assume the young Nicholas Benedict is either the patron of or very important to that story. So important that Trenton Lee Stewart found it necessary to provide the series' fans with a prequel. Having not read the series I thought a prequel would be the perfect place to begin. I was wrong.

Perhaps Nicholas Benedict is rather extraordinary in the series, but in this book I found him to be wholly unremarkable. His nemesis (plural), the Spiders, a gang of mean children at the orphanage, were so stupid that I believe any child with any sense could have dealt with them in some capacity. The adults were so naive and self-absorbed that Nicholas had as much freedom as he needed (and the author wanted) to solve a mystery. Of course, Nicholas did do a number of extraordinary things but his genius came off more as a plot contrivance. I mean, who learns sign language in one night? Are we reading a fantasy here?

There were of course the usual plot points: Orphan boy sent to new orphanage, hopes to make friends despite whatever disability he has (in this case narcolepsy), makes enemies with the resident bullies, director of orphanage is hiding something, and Nicholas (who is incredibly nosy) invades someones privacy sure that the adults plan on using a lost treasure for personal gain. Oh and don't forget, Nicholas somehow knows how to solve all of the orphanages financial woes better than any of the adults in the story, for no adult is as smart as he.

Now, I know this is a children's story and as you are all well aware and I am not remotely upset with children going off and having adventures. The problem with it was that it felt so much like a fantasy that I had a hard time seeing young Nicholas as anything more than a plot device.

Full of exposition and floundering towards the end, the story simply felt bloated by Nicholas' own importance, as if the author really wanted the reader to understand what an awesome person this kid will be someday. I wasn't convinced.