Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan [Introducing the Percy Jackson Project]

I must admit it: I was never a big fan of Percy Jackson. I was a little bit too old for the series by the time I started reading the books, and my interest petered out by book three. I thought that the style of the books was cheesy, I was not really that invested in Percy’s narrative, and I had the rather unfortunate experience of having seen the first movie and remembered it better than the book. And yet so many of my friends love Percy Jackson. Percy Jackson permeates all the spaces I exist online, and a friend who was clearing out their library gave me a copy of every book in the series, and so for a few years now I’ve had to look at them gather dust on the shelf, every particle of dust they gathered while unread an accusation against me. All of this culminated with the news that Percy Jackson is coming to Disney +, and so after a long week at work I closed my laptop, turned off notifications, kicked my feet up on the couch, and settled down with some blue corn tortilla chips and read The Lightning Thief .

My first impression was that my teenage arrogance had not given Riordan nearly enough credit. Percy’s narration — which I remembered thinking was cheesy and contrived — was hilarious and quite charming on this second go around. This was such a fun read. There is so much going on in this book — many of the things that Percy goes through are horrifying to think about putting a child through — but at the same time the way that things play out are not only approachable but plausible. Well, not entirely plausible as we are speaking of a world of gods and heroes in a rather improbable sense, but there is an internally consistent logic to the story that is buoyed by Percy and the way that he interacts with the world around him. 

Percy’s journey and his quest are such a great take on the way that a young pre-teen might go about a mythic adventure. Percy, Annabeth, and Grover get themselves into tricky situations, and they get themselves out in a perfect balance of circumstance and skill. Most importantly, though, that skill is something that contains that internal logic I was talking about based on what they have going for them. Sure Percy gets out of situations that no kid his age with his small amount of training should be able to get out of, but in every instance there is a reason for it that feels sensible beyond a simple contrivance of plot. Sure, Annabeth can pull off all kinds of stunts, but kid or no, she has been training with weaponry for I think five years at this point? And honestly my favorite bit it Grover because *spoiler alert* even though they make an excuse that he ages differently because he’s a Satyr, he’s still 28 years old, which does in fact make him an adult – Percy even says in the beginning of the book that he must have been held back several grades because he doesn’t even pass for a 6th grader anyway. This might be marketed as a kids’ adventure, and Grover might be a bit immature, but I stand by the fact that Percy and Annabeth had adult-ish supervision.

Something I saw recently on Twitter that really stuck out to me was the idea that kids’ books are written for kids:

And the more I thought about it, the more it really, really stuck with me. Because as an adult, I do enjoy some kids’ books, and certain volumes of YA, while others are not my cup of tea. And so when I went into this re-read of The Lightning Thief I was thinking to myself not just “Do I like this as an adult?” but “Would I like this as a kid?” and the answer is a resounding yes. Because as I said, when I first tried to read the series, I was too old for it. But now that I can look back at it with some perspective, I can see the humor in it, I can see the complexity of the storytelling. Throughout the book Percy gets hurdle after hurdle thrown in his way. If anything, the most unrealistic thing about the book is how unflappable Percy is.

That is not to say that Percy does not get angry, or that he does not act rashly, he does plenty of that too. But his capacity to bounce back and move forward, his sheer positivity, is admirable in a way that I really appreciate. I get the feeling that as Percy gets older that is a trait that might not necessarily continue, but it is something that I enjoyed about this book. Given how much I enjoyed the book, and the fact that I fully intend to read the rest of them, I decided to make a little project out of it….

Introducing the Percy Jackson Project

I barely remember anything about the rest of this series, or anything that comes after it. Just some memes on Tumblr, and murmurings about things that my friends have said. Relatively unspoiled as I am, this is the perfect opportunity to mix things up around here, so I am going to start integrating into my regular posts installments of what I call (until I come up with a better name) the Percy Jackson Project, short essays about each book in Percy Jackson’s extended universe. This will continue until either I run out of books or become sufficiently dissatisfied that I no longer wish to read the series. I doubt that will happen, but I would not be a Slytherin if I did not leave a loophole, and I would not be a Hufflepuff if I did not commit anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ In all seriousness, I am really looking forward to this.

Next up: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters.



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