Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lightning Thief (Full Review)

Percy Jackson & The Olympians is not really for adults. It's a tween adventure series meant to be read by 6th graders just starting to learn about Ancient Greece and Rome. Still, that didn't stop me from picking the first book up at Borders yesterday, and I have to say that I found The Lightning Thief to be a quick and entertaining read.

The basic premise of the story is this: Percy Jackson is an somewhat ordinary if troubled kid from New York who finds himself in the middle of a war between the gods. It turns out that Percy (Perseus) is the son of Poseidon and is suspected of stealing Zeus' master lightning bolt, which allows any god that posseses it to rule over all of Olympus. Of course the poor kid has no idea what's going on (or even who his father is) until every imaginable monster from Greek mythology comes after him and he's forced to go on a quest to clear his name. Tagging along for the ride is Annabeth, daugher of Athena, and a satyr named Grover. They have only until the summer solstice to find the missing bolt and return it to Zeus, otherwise a war between the gods will commence, and the world will be destroyed.

What I really love about this series is the idea that the Greek Pantheon not only existed in ancient times but still exists today; as long as Western Civilization lives on, so do The Olympians. Author Rick Riordan doesn't just have them sitting around Olympus wearing chitons and togas either; the Olympians are active around different cities in America and have modernized themselves: Dionysus wears a Hawaiian shirt, Ares rides a motorcycle, Charon likes Italian suits and Medusa owns a shop that (naturally) sells stone statues. This unique twist makes for some great reading, and the action is fast and furious as various monsters pop up (always in interesting disguises) in an attempt to prevent Percy from completing his quest.

I only have a couple of complaints about this book. One is that Annabeth is said to be the daughter of Athena. Anyone worth their weight in Greek mythology knows that Athena is a virgin (along with Hestia and Artemis). Another is that the kids can't seem to learn their lessons fast enough when it comes to monsters. They keep ignoring their instincts and doing things that get them into trouble. I'm aware that it's a plot device, but sometimes I have to shake my head at the lack of common sense these kids sometimes show.

Speaking of learning lessons, I DO like how Rick Riordan explains learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD, both of which Percy has. Rather than them being something that kids should be ashamed of, they are something magical. For Percy, dyslexia is a result of his brain being hard-wired for Ancient Greek instead of English, and his ADHD is explained as a battlefield reflex, one that will save him in his fight against powerful monsters. I think that sends a really positive message to children: ADHD and dyslexia are not disabilities that you should be ashamed of. They do NOT make you stupid in any way, shape or form.

The Lightning Thief is not a long read; it's 375 pages of big print and short chapters, each full of adventure and starring a likable young hero who is able to overcome all manner of adversity in order to save the world. I managed to get through the entire book in a day, and am thinking about getting the next book in the series soon. So if you like Greek history and mythology, I highly recommend The Lightning Thief. :)