Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: Percy Jackson

This month for book club, we decided to read the first Percy Jackson book - The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

The basic premise of this series is that the ancient Greek gods and goddesses are, in fact, real. They are living, breathing, immortal beings who go around and have tons of kids with mortal humans, just as they did in the myths.

The main character is Percy Jackson. An 11 year old "half-blood." He has dyslexia and problems in school and no idea he's the son of one of the Olympians. He learns that he is the child of one of the gods and goes to "Half-Blood Hill" - a camp for demigods where they learn to fight in order to protect themselves in the real world. He makes friends and is given a quest in order to prevent the beginning of World War III.

I did not really care for this book much at all. I know its geared for a younger audience and I think I would have really loved the book if I was ten or eleven. But I'm not.

Even though it wasn't my cup of tea, I am glad that kids like these books and that they make them excited about reading. And these books are relatively informative in that they teach Greek mythology. Growing up, I always had a book in hand. Even for the two minute car ride to the grocery store. I believe that reading is critically important, especially for children, when books and words can shape and help define the person who you will become. But I digress....

Before I rip this book apart, I guess I should first say that I have always hated Greek mythology. For summer reading one year, we were assigned Edith Hamilton's Mythology which is, for all intents and purposes, a textbook chronicling the mythologies of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse. I think its tedious and repetitive and unrealistic. It is outdated and rather pointless. I understand how important it was for ancient cultures, especially since they used these myths to explain everyday occurrences, but hasn't modern science solved a lot of these mysteries?

With that in mind, there are plenty of things I really didn't like about the book.

First of all Percy reminded me of Holden Caufield of Catcher in the Rye fame. I know Holden has his place in modern literary acclaim, but I think its best to leave him and his angst/whiny voice there. Although this connection went away the more I read, I spent the first fifty page or so just waiting for Percy to call someone a phony. I'm not such a Holden fan, so the fact that I associated the two didn't bode well for Percy.

I also kind of hated that he was named Percy. I know that this series has been touted as "the next Harry Potter" but the fact that the main character shares a name with a Harry Potter character (and not a completely minor character either) kind of bothered me. I know his name is Perseus after the hero and son of Zeus (spoiler alert: this was WRONG - Percy is the son of Poseidon, not Zeus, so maybe the name should accurately reflect that?!?!) but still. It irked me.

The foreshadowing in this book was absolutely horrible. I know its targeted for a younger audience, but I'd be hard pressed to find even a ten year old who couldn't figure out that Percy is Poseidon's son after the 500th time they've talked about water. In addition, I felt like the author wasn't consistent with characterization. As an example, Ares, god of war, is described as big and strong, but that's it, he's not a smart guy. Yet Ares used words that I would describe as more intelligent than the god of war, such as "nevertheless."

One of my bigger issues with this book is how unrealistic it was. I will say this up-front, and hope to defend my point of view even while admitting this, I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I think Harry Potter is realistic, Percy Jackson is not. In the first Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling goes through a lot of effort to explain her magical world and the efforts taken to ensure that Muggles are kept in the dark. Most of the magical world is secluded and charms are performed on Muggles who see magic performed to modify their memory.

How does Riordan explain the presence of the gods and demigods? Through "the mist" that drastically alters how mortals see the world. I don't buy it. Plus the gods reside on Mount Olympus which can be found on the 600th floor of the Empire State building. This was just stupid, in my opinion. I know writing a novel gives you some creative license, but reality is also a good idea. I would have believed that Olympus existed on the top floor of any building in NYC, Chicago, or LA that was magically large or altered. I would have believed that the gods resided on the top of any actual mountain in the United States, but to be on the 600th floor? Ridic in my opinion.

My biggest issue with this whole book was how it dealt with some serious issues. I felt that it took a cavalier attitude towards sex and alcohol. I know that the gods fooled around a lot in ancient Greek mythology, and that's one thing, but I think its completely another to have that sort of lifestyle practically celebrated in a book designed for pre-teens. To a lesser extent, the same thing goes for alcohol. Dionysus, the god of wine, is on alcoholic probation, but he is in charge of camp half-blood and is described as looking at his Diet Coke longingly. I'm no teetotaler, but I believe that these issues could have been dealt with more tactfully than they were.

So in conclusion, I wouldn't really recommend this unless you were looking for an easy, easy read.

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