Stewart fills in the back story on the narcoleptic genius founder of the Mysterious Benedict Society (2007), planting him amid fellow orphans in an old country mansion.
The leisurely, discursive tale takes young Nicholas— “a boy of whimsical mind, to be sure (though whimsy was not the half of it, nor even the beginning)”—into the financially troubled Rothschild’s End (“or ’Child’s End, as it is often abbreviated”). There, along with the customary sets of brutal bullies, cowed children and myopically semi-competent staff, he encounters his first library, his first real friend and exciting hints of a lost treasure. His search for this last is complicated by his affliction, which is triggered by any strong positive emotion, as well as the fact that he’s locked into a storeroom every night and also continually at risk from the aforesaid thugs. Being smarter than everyone else put together as well as mechanically gifted, though, he turns every challenge into an opportunity and by the end has found the treasure (which turns out to something much better than money), saved the orphanage and forced a truce with the bullies. More significantly, having seen kindness and compassion in action “[h]e might not know what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he knew with absolute certainty how he wanted to be.”
Admirable insight, despite being conveyed by a lad who comes across as more a super-precocious, psychologically astute preteen than a credible 9 year old. (Fiction. 11-13)