Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Who needs college when we have Rick Riordan to educate and entertain us?

My husband took a college course this summer called “Classical Mythology” and he kept coming home boring me to death with ancient stories of gods’ family abuses, murders and intrigues. I took a course awhile back in which we read Homer’s The Odyssey, The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus (great plays, btw), and three plays by Euripides (which I also enjoyed). I even “stared” as the evil Medea in a classroom performance (in which my American Girl dolls, Samantha and Molly, played my dead babies. I dressed them in “togas” from pillow cases).

While the original Greek stories are full of drama, drama, drama The Lightning Thief offers a lighter approach to classical myths. While not a parody, The Lightning Thief was actually pretty funny.

I enjoyed Percy’s point of view as a 13-yr-old struggling with ADHD and dyslexia who finds out he’s a demigod – a child with one mortal and one immortal parent. He winds up at Camp Half-Blood (for demigods) to find himself in the middle of a family feud between the gods on Olympus. He accepts a dangerous quest to put things straight and to clear his name of theft.

Along his journey, that spans the continental United States, Percy encounters several mythological characters including Medusa (avert your eyes!), Ares (god of war), Hades (god of the Underworld) and my favorite scene of the book was with Procrustes (“The Stretcher”). Riordan brings these ancient characters into the 21st century in surprisingly clever ways while remaining true to the gods’ traits. The Greek gods are known for acting selfishly, constantly making mistakes on a colossal scale, and they are still at it in Riordan’s book.

This is a great adventure story for kids while teaching them about mythology. Why bother with Greek mythology at all? Our own society, or “Western civilization,” borrows much from the ancient Greek. From language to architecture, story-telling to mathematics, philosophy on education to government, our shared “Western” culture has been built on the work of many Greek thinkers. These myths investigate human qualities they thought were important – human qualities taken to extremes by gods, heroes and anti-heroes in order to test, if only hypothetically through story-telling, humanity’s potential strengths and weaknesses. This is just one reason why Greek stories are so interesting and still relevant.

Riordan’s story offers the best of Greek mythology. It tells us enough about a myth without revealing the often sexual/brutal natures of these myths. The book mentions that gods have affairs with mortals and sometimes between the gods. This is as racy as the book gets. I don’t think it’s any shocker to kids these days that some adults have affairs or how they complicate life.

Percy thinks he’s just a “mistake” to his immortal father (I teared up when he thought this). Other “half-bloods” struggle fitting in with step-family members. I think children occasionally feel, if only for brief moments, that they don’t belong in their family. In this way, I think any kid can identify with Percy and his desire to find “family.”

Other themes in this book are friendship (I loved Grover!), trust, betrayal and self-confidence. All around, this was a fun read. I really enjoyed the mythology and the story was original and captivating. I recommend readers be at least 9 (the vocab may challenge them but shouldn’t hinder their reading pleasure. However, plot twists may throw them). Readers may wish to keep a “glossary” of Greek names since they can be hard to keep track of. I was surprised there wasn’t one in the book.
Publisher: Hyperion Books, 2005     Pages: 377     Source: Purchased from Amazon
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up


  1. I read this book aloud to my children both of which have ADHD and one has dyslexia as well. So I have them convinced they are demi-gods. I think I will have to invent a quest for them to boost their self-esteem. Needless to say my kids and I adored this book. We are now in the middle of his second book, Sea of Monsters. I sincerely hope there is going to be a movie on the second book as well. Love Greek Mythology!

  2. Booksnob - Haha, I bet they believe they have demigod powers, too! I've got books two and three on my shelf. I'll get around to them this fall when I need some pick-me-up literature. Let me know how Sea Monsters goes with your fam!

  3. I've always been in love with Greek mythology and when I found out about this series I was really excited. And like you, I wasn't dissapointed. I LOVED the whole series, be prepared to have a new favourite character in the next book: Tyson, he's adorable.

  4. I've always enjoyed Greek mythology, and I think I should read this YA version. I bought it for my nephew, and I know he enjoyed it. I really enjoyed your post.

  5. Great review. This is such a fun series and such a fun mini-lesson on mythology. :)

  6. Wonderful review! I totally agree with everything you said. I learned so much from The Lightning Thief, I need to read the third book in the series soon.