My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Prisoner’s Dilemma is the third book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series.
For those not in the know, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a children’s series by Trenton Lee Stewart. It follows the escapades of four specially gifted children as they work with their mentor, the wise and benevolent Nicholas Benedict, to thwart the plans of his evil twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain.
I think it’s easily the best new series to hit children’s lit since the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary (that’s right, J.K. Rowling. I’m dismissing Harry Potter into the annals of crappy children’s lit – where it belongs) and the best mystery for kids since Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, which, in my mind, is the best children’s mystery novel of all time.
The kids are usually somehow separated from all of their adult friends and must band together to figure out what Mr. Curtain is up to and stop it. Usually, the reader can play along by trying to decipher the clues that the MBS get.
But my favorite thing about this series is not the mystery. No, that’s just the meat sauce covering up all the carrots and spinach that Mom snuck into the spaghetti. My favorite thing about Stewart’s series is that the kids are refreshingly good.
I don’t know when it became okay and even respected for kids to sass their parents and treat one another like crap. Characters in books don’t say things anymore. They scream them. It’s like they’re constantly yelling at one another because of the terrible burden of whatever mission it is they’re trying to accomplish.
But the kids in MBS only shout when they have to in order to be heard. They do get annoyed with each other, but they *gasp!* do their best not to show their annoyance. That’s, like… mature behavior! I hope to God that some of the celebutards out there will someday read these books and think to themselves, “Hmm, I should exercise some self-control every now and again.”
And the kids don’t just refrain from treating one another badly. When one of them makes a mistake, instead of sniping at one another and pointing fingers, the others leap at the opportunity to encourage their teammate. Each of them has a different skill: Reynie is a critical thinker, Sticky has a photographic memory, Kate can climb anything and outrun most adults, and Constance has the gift of extraordinary stubbornness. Oh, and ESP.
Each of them may have a special talent, but they all know that they need to work as a team in order to succeed. There’s no “lone wolf” mentality in these books. They encourage community and teamwork and friendship.
In this specific installment of the series, the evil Mr. Curtain is after Constance for her ability to read and control minds. The plot involves a power outage, a showdown, and some fun clues to figure out (they’re doable if you’re well-versed in riddling).
This installment was just okay, but the series as a whole still gets a solid rating from me.
I’d highly recommend this series to anyone with kids ages nine or ten and up. Screw the wizards. I want to be a secret agent.