Sixth grader Percy Jackson is having another bad school year. In fact, it's his worst year ever. Even though his dyslexia and ADHD make it difficult to pay attention, his history teacher is really riding him to learn all about ancient Greek mythology. As if that weren?t bad enough, during a field trip to a museum the new math teacher, Mrs. Dodds, turns into a giant bat-creature and attacks him. Though Percy defeats her, he thinks he may be going crazy because how many times do teachers really turn out to be monsters, and besides, nobody else seems to remember that there ever was a Mrs. Dodds.
After leaving school for the summer, Percy heads out with his beloved mother to the beach where he is caught in a storm and meets up with Grover, his only friend from school who also happens to be a satyr. They flee the beach house to take Percy to "summer camp" and along the way are attacked by the Minotaur, the ancient half-man, half-bull monster. Percy is able to defeat it, but not before it attacks his mother, who turns into a cloud of golden dust and disappears. When he and Grover make it to the "summer camp", Percy discovers some unsettling news. It turns out that Perseus "Percy" Jackson is actually a demigod, a half-blood child of a human and an ancient Greek god. And no one knows who Percy's dad is.
This was a great book! I really liked the way it wove the ancient Greek myths into the modern world. A knowledge of those stories is helpful but not necessary to enjoy this book. In fact, I got a little frustrated that Percy (and the other characters) couldn't figure out who his father was until well into the book. To me, it was glaringly obvious because of what little I already knew about the Greek gods. But being able to figure it out before Percy did not lessen my enjoyment of this story.
After Percy discovers who he is, he is sent on a quest to find an item stolen from Zeus. He has only days to find it before a cataclysmic war erupts between the gods. The "politics" behind this setup might be a little hard to follow for less experienced readers, but there was so much great action that they will still be pulled strongly along. The setup is so sophisticated, in fact, that it sets up a great story arc for the remaining books in the series. Fortunately, this book is strong enough to stand on its own. Like the best book series titles (see Harry Potter), it is a complete episode with a beginning, middle, and end, yet it still contributes to the overall plot.
And speaking of Harry Potter...After reading this book, I was struck by how much it resembled that other series. Harry is an adolescent boy with special powers; so is Percy. Harry has "parent issues"; so does Percy. Harry is mentored by an ancient wise wizard who mostly stays out of the way; Percy is mentored by an ancient wise centaur who mostly stays out of the way. Harry is helped by his friends Ron, a boy with curly hair who is not quite as skilled as Harry but makes up for it in loyalty, and Hermione, a girl who is full of book smarts and can hold her own most of the time; Percy is helped by his friends Grover, a satyr with curly hair who is not quite as skilled as Percy but makes up for it in loyalty, and Annabeth, a girl who is full of book smarts and can hold her own most of the time. Looking at these descriptions, it would be easy to write of the Percy Jackson series as "Harry Potter in togas", but this would be wrong. Judging from this book, Percy is no Harry Potter wannabe (see Charlie Bone for that). He is an original, exciting, and clever character that any fan of Harry should love to read! (Thank you to Kellie at Barnes & Noble in Riverside for suggesting this book!)