Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

by Rachel Baker on June 16, 2009


I recently had the enormous pleasure of reading book one in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, The Lightning Thief. A young friend of mine had been reading the fourth and fifth books in this series and was so excited by this series that when the opportunity came to read the first book, I couldn’t pass it up.

Before I go further, let me tell you a little about twelve year old Percy Jackson.  He’s ADD; he’s always getting in trouble at school (he’s about to be kicked out of yet another school); and he appears to be dyslexic.  His father [supposedly] “went away” before he was born and never came back and his step father is not a very nice man. He’s the troubled kid we have all known at some point in our lives.  But…he’s not, really.

Percy’s story starts off by telling us:

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now.  Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to live a normal life.

See, Percy found out the Greek gods are real and living in America – Mt Olympus is on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building; he finds out his best friend is a satyr; and he’s about to be reliant on one of Athena’s daughter’s.  Oh, and his dad that went away – yeah, he’s one of the Olympians.

But, he didn’t know any of this until he vaporized a teacher on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at ancient Greek and Roman stuff.  This field trip, by the way, is organized by the latin teacher who just so happens to be a keeping an eye on our little demigod, Percy, and is a centaur named Chiron.  Yeah, you know, the creature who trained Achilles and Jason.

And thus, you have a good idea now about the neat adventure Percy is about to begin.  After he vaporizes his math teacher, he is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he learns the Olympians – Zeus, Posedian and Hades – made a pact not to have children.  Well, his dad sort of went against the pact.  Percy starts his education, if you will, right before the start of a war between the gods.  He’s sent on a quest to find a missing item which will stop the whole thing.

Let’s get on to the review.  The Lightning Thief is a fun book!  I can completely see the draw to this series.  I would classify it as YA fantasy, however, not the same type of fantasy as say, Harry Potter or Eragon.  I learned nothing of use in either of those books. However, in The Lightning Thief, I remembered who did what in Greek Mythology to a large degree (though I’m not really sure how useful that is except for litary references). The Lightning Thief takes place in real places in America (well, except for Camp Half-Blood). And while both the two books mentioned above was about the quest and overcoming diversity, Percy Jackson had an added component that made it possible for the reader to really relate him.  Percy is a real kid with real challenges that most kids can actually relate to. He has a tough time in school, he has family challenges he’s not sure how to deal with, and he realizes he’s not so different when he’s introduced to kids just like him. And, sometimes for all of us, it takes being chased by a minotaur to realize we aren’t the only ones in the world dealing with [similar] challenges.

The Lightning Thief was well-written and full of action. There were a couple of places with a little drag, but nothing major.  It was written in language kids could understand and the characters appeared to be real.  I found myself wondering “what if” the Olympians really existed in our world and “what if” the things that happen in the world is a result of squabbles between the different gods. While this book is largely written with a polytheistic view of religion, I don’t think it would deter a young adult from a monotheistic view of religion.  There is no ritualistic worshiping of the many gods and goddesses in the book, and the gods, goddesses, and demigods are portrayed as biological parents, more than omniscience beings. (Just thought I’d through that out there because I could see this being a deterrent for some parents.)

I’m a sucker for quests – no matter how odd they seem. After I complete reading about someone’s quest, I always wonder what happens to the hero after the quest.  My young friend has warned me that in his opinion he thought book two was not as good as the rest of the books in the series.  Regardless, I am looking forward to reading them all and seeing how our hero, Percy, grows and what becomes of his life as a hero.

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