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Old 07-15-2020, 11:42 AM   #1
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July 2020 Discussion • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

It's time to discuss our book for July, The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan



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Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse - Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena - Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.
So, what did everyone think?

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Old 07-15-2020, 01:46 PM   #2
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What's not to like? Everything.

It was too long and repetitious, one encounter with the baddies after another. The last couple of chapters of wrap-up were especially tedious.

It was too violent; the fact that it was fantasy-type violence didn't mitigate that.

The main characters were stereotypes.

The identify of the betrayer was obvious.

The audience for this is who? People who know Greek mythology or preteens--I doubt there's a lot of overlap between the two groups.

It shows human as some kind of inferior species manipulated by unknown magical beings who are hiding in plain sight--a trope I find especially annoying.

It was boring. Which is the cardinal, unforgivable sin.

Only thing I can say in its favor is that it made last month's book look good.
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Old 07-15-2020, 03:16 PM   #3
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I enjoyed the book.I thought it was a clever, amusing take on Greco-Roman Mythology.

I have no doubt but that it is certainly aimed at a middle school reading audience and I know for a fact that there are many in that age group who do like it. Yes, the characters are stereotypical in many ways but they certainly mirror real types--both good and bad-- younger readers experience in life. Percy himself is dyslexic and is in a family with abusive relationships. Perhaps the fictional character he most resembles is Harry Potter. So, while there is plenty of fun in the book there is no absence of pain.

How does it compare with other similar books? The first book in the Rowling sequence is about on a par. I haven't read the rest of the Percy Jackson series so I don't know how the story develops. The Harry Potter books continue to aim at older readers as the characters themselves age and deepen. I suspect this doesn't happen in Riordan's books. I'll probably read a few to find out.

When I was young I read and loved The Incomplete Enchanter by L.Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt. It takes the reader into the world of Norse Mythology by a time slip device. it is a short novel and the authors followed up with adventures in the world of Spenser's Faerie Queene, The Kalevala and Celtic Mythology. They are all included in The Compleat Enchanter which is available in Fantasy Masterworks. These have something of the tone quality of Riodan's work but are set in the world of the myth rather than importing the mythic characters into the present. On the other hand, Neil Gaiman does bring the world of Norse Mythology directly into our world. But American Gods is most certainly not aimed at a YA audience. It is far more serious and on a much higher literary level. William Tenn did use the Greco-Roman Myths in his remarkable short novel, A Lamp For Medusa. But that dark, bitter, bleak, misanthropic vision is far removed from The Lightning Thief.

In the end, I think that The Lightning Thief is certainly no classic. Far from it. However, it is (IMHO) a lightweight entertaining work which can be enjoyed by teenagers and can amuse some (ahem) older readers who may like the unusual take on the Greek myths.

On Goodreads I gave this book 4 stars as I thought it seemed a good, enjoyable beginning to the series. Perhaps 3 1/2 would be more accurate but I rounded up.

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Old 07-15-2020, 03:23 PM   #4
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Catlady, I can absolutely see why you describe it that way, even though, on balance, I enjoyed it.

I agree about the violence. I especially felt shocked when Riordan had Percy’s mother murder her husband. It was criminal, morally wrong, and seemed completely outside of her character. I suppose the counter argument would be that the mythology the book is based on is violent and amoral. But I still expected better from the humans.

I didn’t think it was particularly well written either. I thought the world building was too sparse. Several plot devices seemed drawn from other books. And as you say, we’re constantly asked to accept events on faith. Solutions just magically unfold whenever needed. I didn’t think the Harry Potter books were guilty in the same way, because Rowling sowed seeds much earlier in the text to make the events seem more plausible.

That said, I can see why the book is highly rated by kids; especially preteens. The dialogue captures kidspeak very well. The use of mythology is creative. The action moves at a breakneck speed. I thought the main characters were likeable and believable, and the villains seemed despicable.

I also thought Riordan did a good job of portraying the gods. They seemed remote, self-centred and capricious, and completely unconcerned with the well-being of others. Their actions and motivation towards their children is opaque. They’re quarrelsome and vindictive with each other. But even though Riordan makes them so dislikable, that must be exactly how they felt to the ancient Greeks who believed in them.

Overall, and in spite of finding Greek mythology boring, like fantasyfan I still enjoyed reading the book; it was a fun read.

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Old 07-15-2020, 04:54 PM   #5
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I enjoyed the book.I thought it was a clever, amusing take on Greco-Roman Mythology.

I have no doubt but that it is certainly aimed at a middle school reading audience and I know for a fact that there are many in that age group who do like it. Yes, the characters are stereotypical in many ways but they certainly mirror real types--both good and bad-- younger readers experience in life. Percy himself is dyslexic and is in a family with abusive relationships. Perhaps the fictional character he most resembles is Harry Potter. So, while there is plenty of fun in the book there is no absence of pain.
I saw neither fun nor pain. I saw the same old stereotypes of an outsider banding together with other outsiders--including a smart-mouth girl sidekick--on a quest. Ho-hum.

I did not read Harry Potter after the first book; it was nothing special and the hype did not inspire me to move on to the next volume.
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Old 07-15-2020, 05:43 PM   #6
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OK, this goes in the Abandoned, 2 star column. Worse, it's a favourite genre,

so a book I expected to like.

Seriously, the language was middle school at best, and I'd have said any competent 5th or 6th grade reader should have found no words that challenged, while the sentence structure was... well, let's be generous -- "simplistic". I happen to like many YA novels, but I expect them to be better than this. Plus this was more violent and more repetitive than was absolutely required. Frankly, I haven't been so disappointed in quite a while. (Though it's almost worth it for the chance to post the Alex Trebek genre video. )
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Old 07-15-2020, 06:23 PM   #7
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OK, this goes in the Abandoned, 2 star column. Worse, it's a favourite genre,

so a book I expected to like.

Seriously, the language was middle school at best, and I'd have said any competent 5th or 6th grade reader should have found no words that challenged, while the sentence structure was... well, let's be generous -- "simplistic". I happen to like many YA novels, but I expect them to be better than this. Plus this was more violent and more repetitive than was absolutely required. Frankly, I haven't been so disappointed in quite a while. (Though it's almost worth it for the chance to post the Alex Trebek genre video. )
The Alex T video is a riot

I agree about the simplicity of the writing. I think it’s intended to be children’s literature vs YA.

Another thing that struck me as overly simplistic, was the premise that the kids at camp would be friends or rivals / enemies, simply because their respective ‘god’ parents were friends or rivals / enemies. Younger kids might accept that logic, but I think teens would find that highly questionable.
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Old 07-15-2020, 08:11 PM   #8
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Well, with a 12-year-old protagonist, the book is presumably aimed at 10- to 12-year-olds. The general rule I learned about YA is that the target audience is up to two years younger than the protagonist; older kids (not adults) don't generally want to read a book with a protagonist younger than they are.

That's why I felt the book didn't know its audience--it's written at a level for 10-year-olds, but the mythological aspects and the darkness seem more suited for teens--as does the length.

This seemed like one of those books written to encourage boys to read, with lots of action and violence--a video game quest masquerading as a novel.
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Old 07-15-2020, 09:45 PM   #9
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I enjoyed it. It definitely wasn't great, but I thought it was good. Say 3/5.

It was less good than I hoped it was going to be, given the ratings and reviews. It seemed aimed at a younger audience than I expected, with not a lot in it for adults, but it did no harm. And given my mood, and how busy I've been lately, I was okay with that.

fantasyfan, your comparison to the first Harry Potter book is interesting to consider. I'm a big fan of those books, but mostly when viewed as an overall series, if I was just looking at the first my estimation would be lower. That said, I do still think the first book offered more for adults than this first Percy Jackson story.

As for the use of mythology: it is common enough in fantasy that I would not expect young audiences to have much trouble. I think that for some this sort of story may be how they first get a taste of mythology. This book seemed fairly middle-of-the-road in its use of mythology (compared to others that I've read), but I thought Camp Half-Blood was good.

And the mythology also explains the casual violence. Firstly, violence, often extreme violence, is part of the mythology. And secondly, almost anything can be fixed if you can find a god to help you fix it, although there are often nasty complications in doing so, which is also part of how the mythology works. So it lands the reader somewhere between cartoons and real life. (I don't know if it's just me, but I've often thought that Greek and Norse mythology read like particularly savage cartoons - and considering how violent cartons can be, that's saying something.)

I'm thinking that things may settle in more in subsequent books, so I'm tempted to try a few and see.
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Old 07-15-2020, 11:26 PM   #10
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I think the movie was better than the book. I think it was a good concept to get kids interested in Greek mythology, but it was just poorly executed.

Mostly I could not get past the writing. Just better writing would have made a big difference to me. Sometime it was just too immature, like the Macy's Parade pooper-scooper reference, or sometimes just plain bad (the Arch looks like a shopping bag handle???).

I liked Camp Half-Blood too. It's a location for kid movies and books that I think is appealing and timeless. Camp was cool and fun as a kid. Camp was going away from the parents and being more "adult." Camp Bunks/Houses create a convenient rivalry and also camaraderie. In this case competing houses had to work together too.
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Old 07-16-2020, 12:20 AM   #11
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Mostly I could not get past the writing. Just better writing would have made a big difference to me. Sometime it was just too immature, like the Macy's Parade pooper-scooper reference, or sometimes just plain bad (the Arch looks like a shopping bag handle???).
Yes, better writing would have pushed this into one I was at least willing to read. For all the hype, this was way below acceptable.
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Old 07-16-2020, 01:25 AM   #12
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Yes, better writing would have pushed this into one I was at least willing to read. For all the hype, this was way below acceptable.
I expected this book to show up on my 2020 Goodreads Year Timeline aa the most popular book I’ve read to date (it did!). However I did not expect it to show up as my most highly rated book of the year (avg 4.25 stars). I feel like it is so popular because of the uniqueness of the concept and the movie-adaptability. The writing just had so much more potential. I say that as someone who enjoys reading children and young adult books. I am curious if the writing improves in the rest of the series.
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Old 07-16-2020, 03:39 AM   #13
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The ratings are one reason why I thought I might try a few more and see if the books improve.

The logic being that I tend to think more highly of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone than it may be worth because of its association with what comes later*. So I'm wondering if this first Percy Jackson book gets marked-up by readers because there is better to come. I enjoyed it enough to find out. I'm thinking/hoping there must be better to come or those ratings would not have been sustained.


* The first two Harry Potter books are also rather too childish for my tastes, but I read them because they are part of the arc, and the arc - I think - is brilliantly executed. Almost every character you meet from the first page through to the last has their distinct place and reason-for-being within the 7-book arc, and none of them feels childish by the end. I will always be in awe of that achievement.
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Old 07-16-2020, 02:13 PM   #14
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I think the movie was better than the book. I think it was a good concept to get kids interested in Greek mythology, but it was just poorly executed.

Mostly I could not get past the writing. Just better writing would have made a big difference to me. Sometime it was just too immature, like the Macy's Parade pooper-scooper reference, or sometimes just plain bad (the Arch looks like a shopping bag handle???).

I liked Camp Half-Blood too. It's a location for kid movies and books that I think is appealing and timeless. Camp was cool and fun as a kid. Camp was going away from the parents and being more "adult." Camp Bunks/Houses create a convenient rivalry and also camaraderie. In this case competing houses had to work together too.
I'm vaguely considering watching the movie on Disney+, since I subscribed for Hamilton.

Re the Macy's parade--what threw me there was how in the world Percy could have been working the parade, not being a Macy's employee or a member of the NYC Department of Sanitation, and being a child.

Camp is not something I ever did, so I couldn't relate to it in any real way.
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Old 07-16-2020, 09:22 PM   #15
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[...] Mostly I could not get past the writing. Just better writing would have made a big difference to me. Sometime it was just too immature, like the Macy's Parade pooper-scooper reference, or sometimes just plain bad (the Arch looks like a shopping bag handle???). [...]
I just remembered that I meant to look up a picture of the Gateway Arch, and now that I have the description works for me - see attached.

Of course it may depend on what sort of bags you go shopping with. Wikipedia had an image of Queen Elizabeth II with a handbag that matched pretty well too, but would have taken me too long to edit in the Arch.

(P.S. I agree that the pooper-scooper reference was a pretty ham-fisted attempt at injecting humour.)
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