Tag Archives: 1984

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Anyone who thinks kid’s books can’t deal with real topics needs to spend some time actually reading kid’s literature. Because in addition to being fun and logical, a lot of authors have the gift of taking serious stuff and translating it into easily-understandable content for kids. Trenton Lee Stewart did exactly this with The Mysterious Benedict Society

The book begins with Reynie and his tutor finding an ad in the newspaper seeking for gifted children to come and take a test. An orphan looking for something more, Reynie decides to go and see what it’s all about. After a series of tests, he finds himself with three other children comprising a team to take on the world’s Emergency. Their mission is to go undercover and learn the inner workings of the machine that is literally implanting thoughts into the minds of everyone. But the mission is dangerous, and the kids don’t yet know how to rely on each other. With the whole world at stake, they’re going to have to learn very quickly.

The Mysterious Benedict Society gave me some serious 1984 vibes. You can’t read the book and tell me that the messages being relayed aren’t the definition of doublethink. And though you would never expect middle grade kids to read 1984 and grasp the concepts, they can easily read The Mysterious Benedict Society and understand some of the same concepts.

The book moves along at a good clip, keeping readers interested and engaged. Stewart also uses the character of Sticky Washington (with photographic memory) to introduce potentially new words and facts to readers, using big words but easily defining them within the dialogue. The book also has strong themes of family (family is who you choose, not just blood), friendship, and teamwork. The children know from the very beginning of their mission that they will need to work together to succeed. However, they need to overcome hurdles and learn to accept who each other is in order to truly develop teamwork. And that process takes the whole story, which I appreciate.

All in all, it’s a great book for all ages. It’s fun, it’s twisty, it celebrates individuality and individual strengths, and it recognizes that growth is a journey.

1984

I realize I’m late to the party with this book, but better late than never, right?

George Orwell’s 1984 is known as a sort of prophetic look at the future, and if you’ve read it you know how scarily relevant it is to our time.

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Winston Smith is a Party man. He follows the rules and performs the mental gymnastics required to accept contradictions without staying conscious of them and accepts that the Party is looking out for the greater good. But then he makes an impulsive purchase–a blank journal from a shop in the slums–and Winston’s once-easy life becomes complicated. Winston starts remembering and questioning, the first steps that lead him down a path of rebellion against the Party and all it stands for. Winston knows that he will be caught and killed, it’s just a question of when. But what he didn’t count on was the Party’s commitment to absolutely breaking him first, to eradicating everything individual and contrary from his very soul.

This book is intense, there’s no way around it. It contains some triggering scenes, like when Winston imagines raping and killing a young Party woman. And while it’s easy to sit back and scoff at the idea of “doublethink”–accepting contradictory information and not allowing yourself to consciously recognize the contradiction and in fact believing there is no contradiction–a glance at the world today shows that this is something our society is quite good at.

Reading through the processes of Orwell’s Party and how they control their population is eerily similar to the kinds of manipulations one can see seeping into society (but then, there’s nothing new under the sun, right? I’m sure Orwell saw plenty of it in his time, as well).

Though it was occasionally a slog to get through, for the most part the story moved quickly toward it’s inevitable conclusion. It also seems to be a kind of commentary on revolutionary action. Winston and Julia think they are being so rebellious fighting against the Party and breaking the rules. Yet their actions have little to no affect outside their own lives. At the same time, they recognize that true change will only come when a fire is lit within the people as a whole, and they know even if they work toward true change, it won’t be seen in their lifetime (and not just because they know they are doomed from the start).

All in all, a thought-provoking book that makes you really think about the things you’re being told and the motives behind the people in charge. In America, we say the government is for the people by the people, and yet the Party in Orwell’s world would make those same claims. It’s not enough to say it, it must be acted upon.