The Extraordinary Education Of Nicholas Benedict
By Trenton Lee Stewart
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 909489 34 9
Nine-year-old orphan Nicholas Benedict has been passed around from orphanage to orphanage for as long as he can remember. And each has been worse than the last. But Nicholas is a survivor, always hoping that the people he meets will make an effort to understand him.
Nicholas is not a "problem kid", but some adults see him as such. Small for his age but extremely clever, he has an "unfortunate" nose that is long and lumpy, and he suffers from a medical condition that causes him to fall asleep at the most inconvenient times.
Adults less intelligent than him see poor Nicholas and his enquiring mind as a nuisance, and older boys see him as the perfect target for bullying. Nicholas has had a lot to put up with so far in his short life, but that doesn't kill his optimism.
When Nicholas is shunted on to a new orphanage, ominously named Child's End, he half-hopes that things will get better. But the orphanage is run by the severe, unsmiling Mr Collum, and Nicholas is locked up in a cell-like room with no windows.
Child's End is a gloomy mansion built of dark grey stone. As soon as he sees the building, Nicholas realises that there is not going to be much happiness or fun inside. And he is right.
On the brink of closure because of a lack of funds, Mr Collum uses candles instead of electricity to light the building. The food the orphans get is disgusting. And it isn't long before a gang of bullies single Nicholas out for special treatment.
For a while, the Benedict intellect manages to outwit the bullies, but this can't go on forever. Once again, Nicholas finds himself in a seemingly hopeless situation. Down but not defeated, young Master B must fire up his brain cells to find a way out.
Soon, our narcoleptic hero comes across a glimmer of hope. Child's End was originally built by a rich couple who died with no children or close relatives. Local folklore has it that the man and his wife hid a massive fortune in the building before they died, and Nicholas, with the help of a new friend, means to find it.
Trenton Lee Stewart's The Extraordinary Education Of Nicholas Benedict is a thoroughly enjoyable book packed with witty writing, great characters and adventure. This is an exciting and well-written story about hope, friendship, and being unique, with an endearing and entertaining hero and an edge-of-the-seat treasure hunt.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com