Stewart, Trenton Lee 1970-
Stewart, Trenton Lee 1970-
Born 1970; married; children: two sons. Education: University of Iowa, M.F.A. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, movies, playing music, taking walks, playing chess and poker, visiting art museums, spending time with family.
Home—Little Rock, AR.
Former creative writing teacher.
Flood Summer (novel), Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 2005.
The Mysterious Benedict Society (young adult fiction), illustrated by Carson Ellis, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2007.
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (young adult fiction), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2008.
A former creative-writing teacher, Trenton Lee Stewart began to receive considerable critical attention with his second novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society, published in 2007. The sequel, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, was published in 2008. Both books are aimed at a young adult audience. Stewart's first novel, Flood Summer, was released in 2005 and is targeted at an adult audience. Set in small-town Arkansas, it concerns two young people who believe themselves to be losers. Abe lives in a trailer and has no money or job plans, while Marie is new to the town of Lockers Creek and is trying to start a new life. When a torrential downpour floods the town, Abe and Marie, along with a colorful group of other townsfolk, are brought together as disaster surrounds them. Many secrets about their lives are revealed in this character study.
The Mysterious Benedict Society was inspired by Stewart's love of puzzles. "I'd long had an image in mind of a child taking a difficult test that was more than it appeared to be," he explained in an interview published on the Hachette Book Group Web site. "To me that seemed the beginning of an intriguing story. When a similar idea occurred to me later, I thought of it as a possible addition to the first one. From there the story began to take shape. So although the book might work without the puzzles, it would not exist without them."
The story involves four special children who respond to an unusual newspaper ad that asks: "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Answering the query are orphan Reynie Muldoon, tomboy Kate Wetherall, the recalcitrant Constance Contraire, and Reynie's friend George "Sticky" Washington. They meet Mr. Benedict, who asks them to take a difficult, problem-solving test along with a group of other applicants. After passing the challenge, the children are sent on a special mission to infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. Here they must foil the wicked plot of Ledroptha Curtain, who intends to enslave the world by broadcasting brainwashing messages to people's homes. Puzzle solving is key to their success, and each child approaches problems from a unique angle. Constance, for example, uses her sheer stubbornness to get results; Kate is adept at using tools; Sticky possesses a memory like a bear trap; and Reynie, who becomes their chosen leader, is simply an expert at finding solutions to puzzles. In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, they lead readers on an adventure that some critics have compared to J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series and the works of Roald Dahl, Blue Balliet, and Lemony Snicket. Along the way, Stewart offers themes on such topics as the potential dangers of the media, the importance of education and intelligence, and the potential of children when they are not underestimated.
While at 486 pages some reviewers felt that The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey drags in some places, many critics hailed the novel as a work sure to please fans who have now run out of "Harry Potter" books. Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, for one, believed that while the "novel could have been shortened," the "story rarely feels slow." "Lots of wordplay with people and place names, literary allusions, ingenious escapes, and light-handed terror mixed with just plain fun take this tale beyond the obvious comparisons with Harry Potter," commented Judith A. Hayn in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, while in the School Library Journal, Beth L. Meister asserted that "a variety of coincidences, Stewart's unusual characters, threatening villains, and dramatic plot twists will grab and hold readers' attention."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklinks, March, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 12.
Booklist, January 1, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 93.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 2007, Karen Coats, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 357.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 2007, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March, 2006, S.F. Klepetar, review of Flood Summer, p. 1230.
Horn Book Magazine, March 1, 2007, Anita L. Burkam, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 203.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, October, 2007, Judith A. Hayn, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 189.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2004, John F. Baker, "A Children's Book by Debut Novelist Trenton Lee Stewart Was Aggressively Preempted for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers by Megan Tingley," p. 10; November 27, 2006, "Heather Doss, Children's Buyer, Bookazine," p. 6; December 18, 2006, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 63.
School Library Journal, March, 2007, Beth L. Meister, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 219; April, 2007, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 59.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2007, Donna Scanlon, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, p. 547.
Blog Critics,http://blogcritics.org/ (June 12, 2007), review of The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Hachette Book Group Web site,http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/ (January 18, 2008), interview with Trenton Lee Stewart and brief biography.
Kidsreads.com,http://www.kidsreads.com/ (January 18, 2008), Norah Piehl, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Renee's Book of the Dayhttp://www.reneesbookoftheday.com/ (December 15, 2006), review of The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Squeaky Books,http://squeakybooks.blogspot.com/ (August 26, 2007), Enna Isilee, review of The Mysterious Benedict Society.