Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.
Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Young Adult series attracted my attention for a few reasons, first it's based on mythology and second it was written by Rick Riordan, writer of the popular Tres Navarre mysteries for adults. This is a five book series and with the last book released last month, it is now complete.
Percy has been tagged as a troubled 12-year-old boy who has been kicked out of every single school he ever attended. He has been diagnosed as suffering from both dyslexia and ADHD and the best he can do in the academic field is a C -- from there his grades go down hill. Percy also has behavioral problems. He seems to get in trouble without even trying and the boy doesn't even know why or how some things happen to him. Yet, even though he seemingly has so much against him, our Percy is a lonely little boy who loves his mother above all things and who will do just about anything for her and for his friends. Percy turns out to be a true hero.
The Lightning Thief begins when young Percy and his classmates from the Yancy Academy go on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The first Chapter is titled "How I Accidentally Vaporized My Pre-Algebra Teacher." That title should give you an idea of the events. He goes from viewing a Greek tomb and answering questions from his Latin teacher to being confronted by his Pre-Algebra teacher, Mrs. Dodds, who turns into something horrifying -- with help from a pen and a friend, Percy survives a dangerous attack and becomes more confused than ever.
This one incident is just the beginning and it sets up a chain of events that leads Percy to find out the truth about himself, his mother, father and a whole other world. Riordan takes us along into an adventure full of gods and monsters, both human and mythological.
In Percy's world Olympus is hidden in Manhattan and the only place where he may be safe is at a summer camp hidden in Long Island. How does Riordan explain the existence of Greek gods or the fact they reside in New York of all places? Here's a great passage I think sets up the whole series:
"Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No, it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know - or as I hope you know, since you passed my course - the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps - Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on - but the same forces the same gods. .... Olympus is where the great power of the West is. And we are here."
The Lightning Thief sets up the fight for Western civilization -- if it's lost, then all is lost. That seems to be the core of the whole series. In this book however, the focus stays on Percy's self-discovery. He finds out that his father is one of the gods, making him a half-blood or a hero. Half-blood Hill, the summer camp where Percy must go for training, is a place where the children of gods and humans are trained to fight for Olympus.
Percy confronts sad, tragic situations and has to make some tough decisions while undertaking a quest that can stop or precipitate a war between the gods. He decides to take his new friends Grover and Annabeth on his quest -- one will provide protection and the other wisdom--in the process he'll find the real meaning of friendship and loyalty.
The characters they meet along the way are varied. Some of them are fun and horrifying depending on where and when they encounter them. The gods are not exactly your nicest or friendliest of beings and Riordan mixes mythology with contemporary language, mores and culture beautifully. While on his adventure, Percy will meet satyrs, centaurs, a Menotaur, gods, the three Fates and more -- he'll also fight monsters and gods while trying to survive and solve a mystery.
A terrific start to this series, I couldn't help but make comparisons to the Harry Potter books. The only thing I could really find were the three friends, the 12-year-old boy and the fact that Percy has powers inherited from his father. The writing, setting and plot are all different and I was glad of it.
Riordan builds a world with Greek mythology as the core but full of adventure, rich characters, monsters and action. This is a wonderful way to expose young adults to Greek mythology while they have a great time following Percy and his friends on their quest to save it all -- with Chapter titles such as "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom" and "I Battle My Jerk Relative," you know this is a fun read. I must admit that I fell in love with Percy--he has the makings of a great hero full of wit, attitude, insecurities, strength and insight.
This book is recommended for 6th to 9th graders, but I really feel maybe 8th to 12th graders would enjoy it more -- depending on maturity. I'm looking forward to reading The Sea of Monsters, Book 2!
You can find the first 3 books for this series here.