I asserted that The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy is excellent. Jules asked in the comments of that post, "What makes TMBS trilogy so good?"
Thanks for asking. I'd love to tell you.
I like clever books. Clever (to me) is where the unpredictable meets the recognizable. TMBS is full of both the unpredictable and the recognizable. The story is unpredictable in some of the plot twists but the characters and the difficulties they face are recognizable in life today. Key themes are how one confronts fear, values friendship, handles obstacles and remembers what is important in life and love.
The story is about four gifted children who for various life reasons are looking for "special opportunities." Individually they go through a series of oddly complex tests before being chosen for a secret mission, headed by the mysterious Mr. Benedict. The cast of characters surrounding Mr. Benedict are equally gifted and mysterious. Over the course of the trilogy the life stories of each of the characters comes to light. And the filling out of each character also occurs as they are presented with new challenges.
Trenton Lee Stewart, the author, is a master of puns and twisty turns of phrases. For example, the story's villains work on Nomansan Island. Say it out loud if your eye didn't catch it. Once I caught this technique, I found myself saying all the place and character names out loud. With great delight.
Stewart also incorporates riddles throughout the book, challenging the reader to solve the clues alongside the main characters. Mystery within mystery builds as you try to figure out the next twist, solution and conclusion.
My favorite animated movie is Up. And while that movie is targeted as a children's film, the themes shout about adult life experience. Particularly those life experiences that have included sorrow, loss and heartbreak. Deep questions and deeper answers. I found myself "in" the movie Up. Hurting and rejoicing with those characters.
Likewise, TMBS is listed as a 4th-7th grade reading level. I beg to differ with that label. The book can certainly be read by a 4th grader, but I strongly believe that the more "life" under your belt, the more head nodding and chuckling will be done. I knew myself in these characters and their experiences, either in past life events or current ones. I think that makes an excellent book--to be able to "hear" your life in a story and still be connected to what is real.
I found the first paperback in a little bookstore at the beach and bought it thinking it would be a good read aloud to Husband while we drove. The minivan was silent as I read chapter after chapter. All of us engrossed in the characters and their story. Now, each of the boys is working through the trilogy at their own pace.
So there's your answer: the clever in the unpredictable meeting the recognizable. That's why I think TMBS trilogy is so good.