Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

Sometimes I plan to read a book. This was not one of those times.

I periodically stop by the used book store to look for a few particular titles (The Buried Biscuits, the Grolier's World's Greatest Classics edition of A Tale of Two Cities and Faust, and the movies Gentleman Broncos and Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Outside the store they have a free bin, where they put the books that are in too bad of shape to sell, or that they already have too many of. Lately the free bin has been overrun with professional scavengers with bar-code scanners, elbowing all others aside like they're in the Kaufmann's bargain basement.

The week after Christmas was no exception. An enormous guy smoking a cigar was protecting two-thirds of the free bin. I managed to find a particularly worn copy of The Lightning Thief, and in keeping with my goal of making my daughter an expert on Greek mythology, and at long-suffering blog-reader Erin's recommendation, I squirreled it away and sprinted back to the car. When I got home, I set the book on the living room table.

We left town for New Year's. When we arrived back home, I had to poop. (I told you this blog was hardcore.) I absolutely hate pooping without something to do--it's such a waste of time. All the books I was currently reading were still in the car with the rest of the luggage. With my pooping event horizon fast approaching, I grabbed the closest book, which happened to be The Lightning Thief. I'm sure Rick Riordan is very proud to gather readers in this way.

I'm of two minds about this book. There are things to really like about it, and things that I really didn't like at all. I think I will start with the negatives, so everyone goes away happy at the end.

I didn't particularly like the character of Percy. Not that he wasn't well crafted; in fact, given that I don't particularly like most 12-year-old boys, it's possible the character was too well crafted. Percy seems like the type of kid who runs to the dessert table at a church dinner and asks for fifths before anyone else has had firsts, and then when his request is denied he calls out, "This is bogus" (or the modern-kid-speak equivalent). I hate kids like that. And for a kid who thinks he didn't pay much attention in his classical antiquities class, he certainly remembers a whole lot of details about obscure Greek myths, and says them out loud for the reader's benefit.

Story-wise, it's exciting and engaging. Reading with an eye for "is this book appropriate for my nine-year-old daughter," I think Riordan did a great job toning down the PG-13 elements of mythology just enough. This was definitely not a "sexy, sweeping tale." The comic scenes seem like the kind the target audience will enjoy, and the barely-cognizant romantic element seems age-appropriate for a 12-year-old main character. Like how the climactic scene in Max Keeble's Big Move is holding hands.

This the the first book in a series, and the set-up seems favorable for my continued reading. The most annoying element of the book to me was Percy's relationship with his stepfather, which consisted mainly of wanting to punch him, but that relationship won't be in the subsequent books. I think I'll like the rest of the series even more.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

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