This book definitely falls under the younger side of Young Adult. The oldest of the main characters is 12. And the main, main character is 11. However, a young Mr. Potter began his YA succession at age 11 as well. And unless this book comes highly recommended, I don’t see many “young” young adults picking it up. This is mostly because of its size; It’s 486 pages, which again is hitting Harry Potter territory. I also feel that the cover is more appealing to girls. It features an old (almost haunted looking), giant house with kids hanging out outside it, but from afar it looks almost like a castle, and I can see how boys might see this cover and think “Not for me,” or “Too fairy-tale like.”
On the contrary though, this book would be perfect for boys, especially reluctant readers. They would just have to get over the cover and the size (two generally and profoundly important things to young readers). And by all means, before the boy puts down the book or walks away, have them read the back; the back might be the only thing to first draw them in. I’m sensing a pattern with my publishing comments. Clearly, publishing companies need to work with librarians before posting their final book covers.
The story starts with an ad in the paper asking, “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” And from there we follow an orphan named Reynie who decides he is a gifted child looking for special opportunities. Reynie takes a succession of tests, all of which he passes with flying colors, and all of which are passed by only 3 other children. Everything is tested from problem solving to resourcefulness, to creativity, to bravery, to his ethical sense of right and wrong. The testing is fun because the reader can test him or herself too (both while reading and then after reading because there is a test at the end of the book –with an answer key).
Soon the four children learn they are all parentless (for various reasons) and all extremely talented in different ways. Sticky has a photographic memory. Kate used to be a part of the circus! And she has amazing gymnastic/resourceful skills. Reynie is quickly asked to step forward as leader and is extremely intelligent and quick to solve hard problems. And Constance’s skills aren’t too clear till the end of the book, but once known are possibly the most important of all.
The kids are all brought together by a man named Mr. Benedict, who gives them a secret mission that involves stopping a mass mind control experiment. It’s up to the kids, they soon realize, to save the world from being completely controlled by one person. And it’s a mission only extraordinary children could pull off.
The book is loaded with amazing YA plot devices like mysterious parentage, bullies, disappearing people, unwanted children, secret passages, machines that can both control you and give you exactly you want most, and best of all kid power! I love reading books where it’s clearly the kids who have the most power, and not the adults. The kids in this book are much smarter than the adults. And the adventures they go on can keep anyone up late in the middle of the night guessing clues and figuring things out. The book might even inspire me to learn Morse code. I give it a 9/10 and I highly recommend it for boys and reluctant readers, though I think everyone can find something to love here.