I’ve been less active on my blog this week because of the happy event of finding a book I couldn’t put down. Like most such discoveries, I came to it by word of mouth. In December, we called my sister-in-law to ask what our fifth grade nephew might want for Christmas. She said he had really enjoyed The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, the first book in a middle grade series called Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Without even stopping to read the blurb in that hectic season, we ordered the boxed set on Amazon, had it shipped as a gift, and forgot about it – until this month, when I spotted a display of the series at the local Barnes&Noble.
I was instantly impressed as I realized these books feature the 12 year old son of Poseidon and a mortal woman in a 21st century America where the figures of Greek mythology – and their numerous offspring – are on the loose. If you remember your Greek myths, you recall that the gods were best avoided by mortals. There was a lot of collateral damage in the Olympians’ constant bickering. Think of Troy.
Percy Jackson, our half-blood (aka, demigod) hero, would not wish his fate on anyone. Dyslexic, diagnosed with ADHD, and a D student, he has been shuffled from school to school six times in six years. And that was when his life was easy – before one of the furies and the Minotaur try to kill him. By sheer luck, he finds refuge in Camp Half-Blood, but not for long. Zeus believes Percy has stolen his thunderbolt thrower. If Percy does not return it in ten days time, a battle will erupt on earth, “that will make the Trojan war look like a water-balloon fight,” according to Chiron the centaur, Percy’s mentor.
Though this book is aimed at a young audience, it has all the attributes writers are taught to build into their novels: an engaging protagonist, a unique premise, tension on every page, and ever-rising stakes. I love the way this story encourages younger readers to explore the classics. One of the items I saw on display at the Barnes & Noble was an illustrated summary of the figures of Greek myth, presented in contemporary form. Zeus had shoulder length hair, a pin stripe suit, and the good looks that could land him on the cover of a romance novel. Dionysus was a pudgy, middle-aged reprobate, given to loud Hawaiian shirts. Such images make the gods more immediate than the older toga and grape-eating portraits.
I am late to this party. The Lightning Thief was published in 2005. A movie version was made in 2010. I don’t know if it was ever released, but the Wikipedia summary shows it diverges significantly from the novel. That makes me wary since I liked the book so much.
Most of the online reviews I read were written by adults who enjoyed Riordan’s stories as much as younger readers. Several mentioned the kind of pleasure they found in Harry Potter. I can’t say for sure, since I’ve only read the first book, but I know I’m looking forward to reading the others.