Nicholas Benedict is a very clever man. He has an incredible memory and a mind made for solving mysteries and puzzles. When he gathers together four children who are nearly as clever as he, he sends them on adventures, during which everyone's wits are tested.
But what was life like for Mr. Benedict before he met Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance?
In The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, we discover more about this charming gentleman. We meet Nicholas arriving at a new orphanage, Rothschild's End (or 'Child's End, which is ironic in itself for the name of an orphanage). At nine years old, this kid is a genius. His memory and recall skills are already amazing. However, his narcolepsy is also as present in his life as his incredible mind. But it was interesting to get a closer look at what that was like for him, seeing it through his point of view and how it worked. It was interesting to see how it affected his adventures as the main character.
The orphanage was once the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rothschild, and a mystery surrounds it after their deaths. A missing inheritance, and rumor of a treasure somewhere on the property. But Nicholas isn't the only one searching for it. He's racing someone else for the treasure while also trying to outwit the Spiders, a trio of bullies who rule over the other orphans.
I loved learning more about Nicholas' childhood. He's charming, and has a certain degree of sass that makes him funny. He keeps calm in potentially dangerous situations, which also keeps his narcolepsy in check (as any strong emotion can send him to sleep). His clever mind was really fun to follow, and you become immersed in it. I realized later on I had adopted his viewpoint so deeply I was viewing a character the wrong way, having no logical reason for thinking of that character the way I did. It surprised me, but it also fascinated me, that I could be so involved with Nicholas that I started seeing things as he did, or at least to the point of being mislead in the intentions of a character.
The story and mystery was fun, and always kept you wondering. I had been hoping for riddles or puzzles like there are in the trilogy, but the mystery was enough to keep my mind whirling with possible solutions and explanations. Lots of clues, with lots of possible solutions, and it's fun to try and solve the puzzle before Nicholas does. It gets tense when Nicholas is racing to solve the puzzle before another does (whose own character is also fascinating).
Nicholas' character growth was very interesting. He's nearly always kind and friendly, but as he grows he recognizes places he might improve in, and he takes immediate action, forming plans to work on his deficiencies. I liked his revelation of this, and his course of action. I liked seeing one moment of very raw emotion in him. He tries hard to keep his emotions in check, to control them so they won't send him to sleep, but this instance he just can't. It was interesting to see that development in his personality, and show that he's still a kid with feelings that can be upset.
* * * * *
Overall, this book is adorable and lots of fun to read. Focused more for younger readers (perhaps just under the middle grade range), the content is very clean of anything extreme. But here are a few instances of some areas, in case you (or your parents) may question it.
Violence/gore: One character gets punched, and the Spiders do various nasty things to the orphans, but none of it is extremely harmful at all.
Profanity: Brief reference to Mr. Collin cursing under his breath once.
Sexual content: None. There is an attraction between two characters, but it's simply amusingly quirky and awkward conversation.
Other: Bullying from the Spiders. Nicholas and John sneak out after curfew. Orphans are humiliated with a dunce cap just for making noise at night (e.g. screaming after a nightmare). One character runs away, and lies to avoid being found out.