Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

November 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Percy Jackson is something of a problem child.  He’s a good kid, but with ADHD, dyslexia, and a penchant for attracting trouble, he’s been kicked out of boarding school after boarding school. On top of that, Percy seems to have angered some people (and things) he thought only existed in Greek mythology. As it turns out, Percy is a demi-god, half god and half human, and suspected of stealing Zeus’ master lightning bolt. Along with a pair of new friends he has to set off on a quest to learn who was really behind the theft before the gods of Olympus go to war over it.

My favorite thing about The Lightning Thief (which is the first of a five book series) is Percy Jackson.  He’s got a unique and entertaining voice (it reminded me on occasion of Holden Caulfield, especially at the beginning when he was getting kicked out of school and returning to New York City), and I love that the book takes as its hero a boy who struggles in school. Riordan doesn’t elevate Percy’s poor grades as admirable, but I love that his protagonist isn’t the idyllic orphan who just needed to be given a chance.  He frames Percy’s ADHD as a hyper-response mechanism to help him in battle and explains the dyslexia by saying his mind was hardwired to read Greek, not English. I think it’s such a great way to engage readers who don’t fit into the perfect student mold. The other thing I loved about The Lightning Thief was the funny spin it took in modernizing Greek mythology and imagining what it would look like in light of the modern world.  I don’t want to ruin anything, but there are some entertaining cameos by Greek gods, monsters, and locations.

My biggest complaint about The Lightning Thief (and I talked about this in a post on originality last week) is that it follows the Harry Potter formula almost to the letter, substituting Greek mythology for magic. Instead of going to a school for magic, the characters go to a summer camp for demigods, and the main character is accompanied by a brainy girl and a self-conscious boy. There’s a direct substitute for Slytherine, Malfoy, and Quidditch. There’s even an invisibility hat to fill in for the invisibility cloak.

On the whole, the book is a fun read, great for either boys or girls, and I think especially the non-traditional reader.  The similarity to Harry Potter is my main reservation to giving this a wholehearted endorsement, but I’ve heard a lot of love about this book from both parents and young readers.

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