You might be wondering what a demigod is. And you aren’t the only one. Riordan’s creative writing pulls from Greek mythology in a way that will leave just about everyone but a Classicist scratching their heads. However, instead of feeling shame for having slept through Greek Mythology (and Greek language class) during your school days, look at it as a challenge. Riordan doesn’t belittle his readers for their lack of knowledge, he inspires everyone (including your child) to learn more about the culture that contributed so much to modern Western Civilization. This word-nerd in particular longed to dig a college Greek text book out of storage and start learning all over again. Insulting someone by telling them to “go to the crows” (in Greek) is such a sophisticated way of getting under their skin!
But, back to Percy Jackson. (No, he doesn’t go by Perseus on the streets of New York.) Percy is dyslexic, has ADHD, and is prone to accidents. He has been kicked out of every school he’s ever been too. When he is attacked by a Fury (something he just learned about in Latin) during a class trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his world is permanently altered.
Percy’s quest begins as he, his mother, and his friend Grover are running away from the Minotaur on the way to a summer camp where he will be safe. Accidentally, though happily, he kills the Minotaur, but not before his mother disappears into the netherworld.
Grover, it turns out, is a satyr who has been assigned to protect Percy, although he’s not always successful in his role. Nevertheless, Percy wakes up three days after killing the Minotaur at Camp Half-Blood, a safe-haven for the mortal children of the gods. There he learns, not only of his parentage but that demigods struggle with dyslexia and ADHD because their brains are hardwired for ancient Greek and their bodies are equipped with amazing reflexes which predispose them for battle. And as soon as he begins to belong at the camp, Percy must leave on a quest. Zeus has accused him of stealing the master lightning bolt in an effort to start a war between the gods and Percy must travel to the underworld to retrieve the bolt, prove his innocence, and rescue his mother on the side.
The one word that describes the intricate mix of action and poetic conceit in the book is “clever.” Riordan plays with words, mingles the ancient with the modern, and parodies everything he sees. The plot is not only true to mythology, it is true to real life with places like a Hollywood recording company being the entrance to the underworld, a garden statue store being Medusa’s modern means of survival, and the lair of the lotus eaters being hidden in a Las Vegas Casino.
Without being impossibly complex or blatantly stereotypical, Riordan’s characters are also very realistic. Grover, for example, while sitting on a dock and watching nymphs practice their underwater basket weaving, wishes he could do something productive. However, it is his efforts, and his failures that make him so endearing. Grover captures, in an instant, the modern human desire to be productive, to have something to show for themselves and their lives.