I had kind of known that there was a prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society books coming out and then promptly forgot about it until someone mentioned it on Twitter. And then Eleanor Brown read it and told me (again, on Twitter) that it was excellent so I bumped Trenton Lee Stewart's The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict up my reading list.
In this prequel we get to meet a young Nicholas Benedict. Admit it, you wondered what he was like when he was a child. Well, now you know. He was smarter than everyone around him, cunning, and even at a young age had a pretty decent handle on his condition. And yes, having narcolepsy really is a disadvantage for the smartest kid in the class (or orphanage).
I think that's where the strength of this book really is -- young Nicholas has to deal with bullies. We've seen a bit about bullies in the Mysterious Benedict Society books but it really stood out for me in this prequel. Nicholas is not only bullied but when he gets very emotional, he just shuts off. His narcolepsy kicks in and he's out like a light. Nicholas needs to find ways to avoid scenes with the Spiders and to outsmart them without getting overexcited or scared. Even more, he doesn't have a home to go to at the end of the day to escape to for saftey. He lives with this bullies, though he's at least somewhat at an advantage in that he has a private room (though that is a definite disadvantage at times as well.) Will his tactics work for all kids? No, but I think there could be kinship there for other kids dealing with bullies.
We also get to see the some of the weaknesses of Nicholas' character as well. Yes, when he loves people he truly does care for them. Yet he forgets that they may have different challenges than he does and he doesn't always fully appreciate the risks that they take for him.
These's some goodness here for the book lovers in the crowd. When Nicholas discovers that there's a library in the orphanage and that he'll be allowed to read the books... well, it's a scene that you'll love.
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was a bit of a slow start but it was worth it. Even in the end I felt a little bit sad for Nicholas, and I think that's the way it's supposed to be. His life wasn't easy, perhaps even especially as a child.