Friday, August 21, 2009

Spoilers ahead

I've debated writing this post since I finished reading The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I really liked the book except for one thing. It's a minor issue, not important to the plot, just a revelation at the very end that a character we think of as one thing is actually another thing. It's the equivalent of the stupid joke at the end of the sitcom, the one that makes everyone laugh.

Except that it's more than that, and it really bothered me. A lot. I can't explain without spoilering the whole issue, so proceed at your own risk.

Spoiler below, okay?

Okay, so the book is about a group of four kids who are recruited by the kindly Mr. Benedict to infiltrate a private school. The school is the cover for a mad scientist's plan to control the world by broadcasting subliminal messages through radio and TV signals. It's fun and the characters are interesting: Reynie the puzzle-solver, who becomes the group's informal leader; nervous and brilliant Sticky, a black boy with an eidetic memory; Kate, energetic and spunky--she ran away to join the circus so many times they let her stay; and Constance, who expresses her crankiness by making up silly rhymes.

It's Constance that's the problem. She's described as a little person, and I kept thinking about it all through the book because I've never read a kid's book with a little person as the main character. I kept thinking about how important it would be for a kid with dwarfism or some other related issue to pick up this book and find someone like him, who's part of an adventurous team of kids and treated just like everyone else.

Except that at the end, Constance is revealed to be not a little person at all, but an especially precocious three-year-old.

Leaving aside the fact that NO ONE would mistake a three-year-old--no matter how precocious--for a ten-year-old little person, certainly not the three-year-old's best friends, the real little person reading this book suddenly gets a punch in the gut. Constance wasn't just like him after all. In fact, it's an insult: little people are indistinguishable from small children, and oh no, I'm sure they never get treated like that at all ever, right?

It left a really bad taste in my mouth. I just had to vent about it.

11 comments:

Aaron Polson said...

Yeah...that would bother me, too. I always question why tidbits like that are included, especially if they do nothing for the plot.

Jeremy Kelly said...

Wow, that's weird. I can see how it can throw the whole story off.

K.C. Shaw said...

Aaron--Yeah, it was so unimportant that someone down the line should have caught it and asked the author about it. I did a search and no one else seemed to have a problem with it, though, or if they did I couldn't find it.

Jeremy--The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am in the author.

Carrie Harris said...

That IS odd. I can't see how anybody would ever legitimately make that mistake.

K.C. Shaw said...

It floored me when I read it. In fact, the character isn't quite three throughout the book. I think the other kids would have eventually figured out she was a toddler without having to be told.

Catherine J Gardner said...

Having not read the book, I can't fully comment but it doesn't sound right at all. My four year old niece often thinks she's a 'big girl' but the world knows she's a 'little girl'. Strange. Other than that, the book actually sounds like a good read.

K.C. Shaw said...

It is an excellent book, which makes that one false note even worse. There's a sequel, but I don't think I want to read it.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Sounds like a major flaw. I can see how it would leave a sour taste.

K.C. Shaw said...

The worst part is that it was so unnecessary. If it had been an important part of the plot, I'd have been more willing to forgive it.

Jameson T. Caine said...

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K.C. Shaw said...

I'm picturing it as all grubby and dusted with orange. Still, I'm flattered. :)