“‘Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?’
Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they’ll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. So, if you’re gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.” (from Goodreads)
I had vaguely registered my friends’ glowing reviews of this book, but since it had been compared to something I don’t care to read, I always passed it by at the library. Until I found a copy at the thriftstore and decided that maybe now was the time to give it a try. 😉
It kinda blew me away with its funness and smartness and cleanness and deepness. ❤ It actually reminded me a lot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Wingfeather Saga in that regard.
I LOVED the quirky tests at the beginning. Not only were they really clever and fun to read about, but that was some pretty ace character development. O.o. I found myself laughing over the hidden puns, scurrying through the intense parts, and even kinda inwardly gasping at some pretty big reveals. 😉 Definitely a lot of surprises! Especially with all those “tiny” details that ended up being really important. I’m still in awe. 😉 It was also really cool how each of the children, Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and even troublesome Constance, were shown as important even in their differences, and I think that’s a good lesson for us all.
Reynie was my favorite, though. His honest, Hobbit-y soul and his outlook on life were just the best. ❤
Mr. Benedict was my other favorite character. Wise and zany, brave and a little broken himself… I especially loved how he guided and taught Reynie and how the children could always trust him. Something about the way he unconditionally loved them and chose them and worried over them… it got my allegorical wheels turning a little bit. 😉
The themes in this book were just another thing that makes it stand out. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the effect of media on our lives, so the message of rejecting subtle messages (often ones of panic) and being lovers of truth really hit home. 😉 Also, friendship and its importance, adoption (*cries happily*), and facing fears/resisting temptation–so much. I’m seriously gonna have to reread this to properly appreciate all of the wonderful depth. ❤ (And can we talk about Reynie’s struggle in “A Chess Lesson”? Because, um, that was painfully real and amazing.)
Just a note, because this book features children as secret agents, there are some scary situations and evil adults. “The Waiting Room” was a disgusting, slightly disturbing place, and one of the children is beaten up pretty badly by guards. SPOILER ALERT! Also, memory wiping and one metaphor that mentioned cutting someone up.
Best quote: Reynie was crumbling, on the brink of despair. Mr. Benedict expected him to be a leader to his friends, to be smart enough to devise a plan, to be brave. But he was no kind of leader at all, he knew that now, certainly not brave, and Mr. Benedict felt very far away indeed. More and more, Mr. Curtain seemed like the real man, and Mr. Benedict like a memory from a dream.
Altogether, I loved this clean and fantasticly clever ride, and I’ll definitely be revisiting it again to absorb even further all its amazingness. 😀
Also, I have so much love for the last line, those marvelous illustrations, and that red stripe down the side of the cover. ❤