Friday, February 12, 2010

The Lightning Thief Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson series book number one)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, ages 9-12

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Action Packed, a Page-Turner, Great Appeal for Boys, Liked Also by Reluctant Readers, Great Message for LD Kids

The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson series, authored by Rick Riordan. I first learned of this book while attending a book festival about middle grade fiction for children, where Riordan was speaking. My interest was piqued when he said the idea came from the idea of viewing a child with a learning disability or a neurological condition (i.e. ADD or ADHD) not just as a child with a problem but as a child with other unique abilities thanks to the presence of their condition. The idea that a child may be different and superior in a good way in some areas while not normal in other areas (by someone's definition) is a paradigm shift. Riordan said he created these stories originally as bedtime stories for his son and it was his son who suggested he write them down. And so the Percy Jackson series was born.

Percy Jackson is in middle school and struggles to learn. He doesn't have the high self-esteem and often feels that he's different and an oddball at school, he doesn't seem to fit in. He has never known his biological father, and his stepfather is verbally and physically abusive and spends a lot of time gambling and drinking beer.

The story starts off with a bang and gets right into the action, with Percy soon discovering that he is only half human, because his father is one of the Greek Gods! Yes, Percy is a Demi-God! Unbeknownst to Americans, the Greek Gods are alive and well and living in the United States of America. Percy is sent to a summer camp filled with kids who are also Demi-Gods. Percy spends his summer on a quest and in the process learns that his weaknesses in the mortal world are strengths to him when living as a Demi-God, they give him his powers, help others and even can save his own life. Percy also finds true friendship that summer.

The Lightning Thief book is a page-turner, action-packed story. I wanted to know what happened next and stayed up late at night to keep reading in order to find out. Riordan did a great job with keeping the pace of the book fast enough to move the reader along and not want to stop reading yet still manages to weave a good story in between (unlike the writers of most action movies who over-concentrate on the action and special effects). Riordan ends each chapter leaving the reader not wanting to put the book down--we want to plunge into the next chapter, and the next, and the next.

After I heard Riordan speak and before I read it myself, I found out that The Lightning Thief has a reputation among parents, teachers, and librarians as being a book that appeals to reluctant readers. It is very much a book with appeal for boys but also some girls I have spoken to said they love the book as well. One of the secondary characters is a powerful girl which probably helps. In my area some public schools require all fifth grade readers to read this book so some girls I've spoken to were only reading it as they were being forced to, but they still enjoyed the read.

The only kids I've spoken to who said "it's okay" instead of "I love it" are those who knew nothing of Greek mythology and were a bit lost, they told me, and they were being forced to read the book by their school teacher so they had to keep reading it. (I like to ask kids about what they think of the books I see them reading so I hear some very interesting insights.) Every child who already knows something about Greek mythology (especially the homeschooled kids who studied that in elementary history lessons) absolutely love the book. In Riordan's defense, as an adult reader I felt he gave enough of a brief description of each Greek mythology thing so the reader could keep up with the story. I have a feeling those who know more about it from prior learning are able to enjoy The Lightning Thief more (rather than the fault being something connected to Riordan's writing itself, the deficit is with the child due to their ignorance).

My nine year old son recently read this and begged me to read it. He wanted me to enjoy reading it as he did, so I did read it. Then he compelled his twelve year old brother to read it; he loved it also and found it a page-turner too.

If the child loves The Lightning Thief they can't wait to read the rest of the series and often dive right in and consume those also. At present there are five books in total. A movie has been made of this book which premieres this weekend (I've not seen it yet).

The only controversial thing that one parent complained to me about was in The Lightning Thief she felt there was too much discussion on infidelity of married people and affairs resulting in babies being conceived, she thought that was too mature a topic for readers aged 9-12. Also she was upset about the abusive stepfather and felt it was unnecessary. She did say when she read the second and third books they were more tame. An additional concern of hers is that some parents were reading this aloud to children under nine years old.

I love this book as an action packed read for children. It is great for kids who are not yet convinced that books are fun and that reading can be for pleasure reading not just being done for schoolwork. If this book can help a reluctant reader see the light that books and reading are great then I think Riordan has done a commendable thing for children by creating this book series.

I do not recommend this as a read-aloud for children under nine years old. I feel this book is best used as an independent read to help lure in reluctant readers and to show all children who read it that reading is indeed a worthwhile, fun way to spend their time. I say let the child dive into the book by themselves so they can feel that wonderful 'escape reading' feeling and the pull of wanting to go on and on reading it, not wanting to put it down. Parents please allow your child that experience and pick something else for a family read-aloud (such as the full Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis).

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this review. I purchased this book for our family's use, it was not given to me.


hopeinbrazil said...

Fascinating review!

seth said...

I keep moving this one up my To Be Read list, but my Library Hold isn't coming through any faster. I've got the 5-book set of the Olympians in my Amazon cart but I keep hesitating to pull the trigger. Must. Read. Soon.

LivingByLearning said...

The Lightning Thief series is a winner! When a local homeschool mom posted an invitation to start a book club, this book drew a group of young boys (not the usual crowd for book clubs!) My son loves the series so much, that he's read it twice.

I didn't find the writing as rich and engaging as the Harry Potter series, but it was a fun read. Recently, I wrote a post about it:

Crimson Wife said...

Have you seen the movie yet? It was entertaining, though they left out a major, major plot point. I'm not sure how they'll be able to make the rest of the books in the series into movies without it.

christinemm said...

Haven't seen it yet we have plans to see it later this week with another HS family. I'll report in after that!

Alexis said...

Great review! I did one on this book too!