The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
One year after the conclusion of the adventure that brought them together, the Mysterious Benedict Society reunites, only to find their benefactor kidnapped. They embark on a quest to rescue Mr. Benedict from his sinister twin, Mr. Curtain, following clues to Portugal, Holland, and a deserted island. Readers can expect the same wordplay, wry humor and plot twists from the first volume.
One thing I noticed in reading this sequel that slipped by me in the first book is how progressive the gender roles are in this series. The four main characters are two boys and two girls, and they are given nearly equal time, though Reynie (a boy) is the main protagonist. The roles they each play within their group are not stereotyped by gender. Kate is the action hero of the bunch, while Sticky is a bit of an egghead intellectual. Constance may be weak and small, but that’s more because of her age than her sex, and she is also forceful, stubborn, and determined, outperforming Sticky in a crucial moment. Among the adults, things are a little more traditional. Men outnumber women, and the men are more active, as spies, villains and heroes, while the women are assistants and mother figures. But the children are the focus of the book, the most interesting characters who get the most time to shine.
I think the reason I didn’t notice this aspect of the series the first time around is because it seems so natural that these characters should have these roles in the group that it doesn’t even occur to the reader to consider the book’s treatment of gender roles. And that’s a good thing. Undoing stereotypes can only happen under the radar in this way; the second you realize the author is using his characters to make a point about gender stereotypes is the second you stop caring about them and chalk the book up to propaganda. When characters break stereotypes, they should do it like the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for them to do, as if they couldn’t imagine doing differently, and readers will believe it and internalize it. However, perhaps that level of unself-consciousness is only available to child characters. Anyway, I’d be proud and happy to give this book to either a boy or a girl, because I’m sure it would entertain readers of either gender, and they’d become less prejudiced without even noticing it.