Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lightning Thief

I'm on a kick lately of reading some of the popular YA fiction out there, as you can tell from my most recent posts.  As a teacher, this is advantageous because I know what the kids are filling their heads with, and I am also able to make good recommendations to kids who can't find anything to read.  However, let's be's really just an excuse to read more books.  Truth be told, I enjoy YA fiction, and I love that it's part of my job to read it! 

This week I finished a book I've been wanting to read for a while, Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book One: The Lightning Thief.  Percy is pretty popular with my students these days, and I have seen the movie, so I have been anxious to read the stories and find out what all the hype is about.  What I found was a really interesting take on ancient stories and way to make kids interested in classic literature. 

The Lightning Thief centers around Percy Jackson, a troubled kid from new York that never quite fits in anywhere.  He has ADHD and is dyslexic, and for some reason, disaster just seems to follow him wherever he goes.  One minute he's minding his own business, and the next minute he's being attacked by a giant monster in the middle of a museum.  What's a boy to do?  As it turns out, there's much for him to do, for Percy is none other than Perseus, son of Poseidon the ancient Greek god of the sea, a half-blood of both mortal and immortal stock.  The revelation in Percy's life brings him to Half-Blood Hill where there is a camp for others like him, children of the gods who have hooked up with mortals.  At camp Percy learns that he is actually the center of attention of a war brewing between his father and uncles, and he must go on a quest in an effort to save civilization from mass destruction.  Oh, and maybe save his mom along the way.

Rick Riordan started writing this book based off of stories he told his second-grade son, another student who struggled in school due to ADHD and dyslexia.  As middle school literature teacher, he knew the stories of the Greek myths, and he started creating stories about a boy named Percy who turns out to be the modern-day son of Poseidon.  His son asked him to write down his stories about Percy traveling across America to find Zeus's lightning bolt, and the Percy Jackson series was born.  

Riordan obviously knows his Greek mythology in and out, and he does a masterful job of weaving the old tales into new adventures for today's audience.  It was fun to read the stories and make the connections between the modern-day versions of the monsters and the ancient stories I have heard throughout my schooling. Greek mythology is a huge part of our culture whether we realize it or not.  So many modern-day books and movies make references to these ancient myths, and yet it can be so difficult to make students care about learning them - you get a lot of "this is stupid, why do we need to learn this?"  Riordan has found a way to show modern audiences the impact of these stories and hook them in to want to learn more.

The book is well-written and fast-paced with plenty of action to keep the average middle school reader enthralled...or the average 30-something reader.  Percy is a great character, a not-so-perfect teenage boy who is trying to find his place in the world.  Many readers can identify with that.  Most of these readers will NOT find out they are a half-blood son of an ancient god, but that's where fact and fantasy meet.  The themes of heroism, perseverance, and loyalty will also capture the heart of many readers.  We all have a desire in us to do something heroic.  Watching Percy learn how to be a hero strikes a chord in all of us as we look for our own opportunities for heroism. 

I will say this.  It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has read this blog that I am a Christian and that my spiritual beliefs are very important to me.  Reading about "gods and goddesses", then, did bother me, even as a fantasy idea.   They do mention God at one point and acknowledge His existence with the hint that He is something more than Zeus and his family, and that made me feel better.  I don't regret reading the book, and I plan to read the rest of the series.  I do believe it presents the opportunity to have discussions about real and not real.  I don't think we have to avoid everything that is fantasy because it contradicts what I know to be True.  Reading books like this solidifies my own beliefs even further and can lead to discussions about beliefs and truths.  No one believes in these myths any more, but they did once, and I want to acknowledge the importance of teaching at least my own children that while these are myths and not true, there are powerful spiritual forces in the world that are absolutely real and that do have control in our lives.  Thankfully, however, the real God of the universe is not selfish, petty or paranoid, and He does not use us as pawns in power games.  He doesn't have to.  If you have real power, then you don't have to be in constant fear of losing it.  These are the discussions I would like to have with readers of the book series.  Jesus walked the earth in the time when people believed these tales - what was the good news that He brought that broke the chains of belief about these mythological creatures?  What freedom that must have brought to the early Gentiles! 

So.  Anyway.  This was a good read, and I am glad to be more up on what the cool kids are reading these days.  Gotta stay hip, ya know!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Next up: Matched by Ally Condie
1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
2. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
3. A Higher Call by Adam Makos
4. Multiply by Francis Chan
5. Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

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