Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief Book Cover

Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Publication Date: March 2006
ISBN: 978-0786838653
Number of Pages: 400

What if the gods of Olympuswere alive in the 21st Century? What if they still fell in love with mortals and had children who might become great heroes — like Theseus, Jason and Hercules?

What if you were one of those children?

Such is the discovery that launches twelve-year-old Percy Jackson on the most dangerous quest of his life. With the help of a satyr and a daughter of Athena, Percy must journey across the United States to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction – Zeus’ master bolt. Along the way, he must face a host of mythological enemies determined to stop him. Most of all, he must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend.

Source: Rick Riordan’s Web Site

I admit I’ve been putting off writing this review because I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about this book. On a purely entertainment level the book is a fun adventure with friendship and all the other important things in a book like this should have. However I’m bothered by some of the implications in the book. I realize the author wrote the series for his son who has dyslexia and ADHD like the main character Percy. And I have to figure he meant for it to be an inspiring book about a boy with disabilities who finds out he’s a half-God and learns that his disabilities are gifts (which is a trope as well, but more on that in a minute).

Even when I was first reading it I spent the first few pages wondering why Percy wasn’t getting any support or accommodations in the schools he was in. He talks about how he’s been kicked out of school after school because things keep happening and I couldn’t help but wonder if he had gotten more support from the system he wouldn’t have been kicked out. To be fair I think we were supposed to realize that most of the time he was getting kicked out not because of his disabilities but because various demons and other evils were causing problems and Percy was getting blamed for it. But even that bothers me – that he was getting blamed for things that weren’t his fault.

When we learn he’s really a half god and that his dyslexia is due to his brain being hardwired to read Greek and the ADHD is heightened battle reflexes we’re supposed to think that’s awesome that the disabilities are really gifts, right? Unfortunately, it’s a trope that’s been done to death. Have a look at the Disability Superpower page on TVTropes.com. Basically – it’s okay to be disabled because you have this other super power that makes up for it. And it’s not just Percy or the other half-Gods – there are other characters with disabilities that turn out to be hiding something else.

There’s also the problem of Camp Half-Blood – where all the half-Gods go because they can’t live in the real world. Granted it’s mainly because the bad guys would keep coming after them but still… being forced to stay at this one location for the rest of your life just because you’re a half-God? Oh but maybe you’ll get sent on a few missions because you’re hero after all, but after you’ll have to come back and stay at the camp because there’s nothing else for you.

Granted at the end of the book Percy decides to go live in the real world for a while – to try again with school. But again I wonder if he’ll be given accommodations and support at all? Because without those he isn’t going to be able to do much. Being told to “try harder” doesn’t help when you can’t read the words on a page or sit still long enough to take in the information being given.

Here’s the thing – disabilities are real, dyslexia and ADHD and physical disabilities are real. They’re something that needs to be lived with, not pretending they are really gifts. That it’s okay that we’re disabled because we have this super power that makes up for it. No, it’s okay to be disabled because we’re still people just like everyone else. We don’t need pity or uplifting stories to deal with our disablites. What we need is to be accepted for who we are.

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5 Responses to Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

  1. lilly says:

    I listened to this book on audio a few years back and I never really gave it as much thought as you did but now that I read your review you do raise some valid issues. I especially wholeheartedly agree with you on the last paragraph. A lot of wisdom in just a couple of sentences.

  2. Trisha says:

    I do not think this book is biased against disabled people just because those with disabilities are also given superpowers in the book. The use of real life difficulties to make for extraordinary powers is not new in literature or storytelling of any sort, nor is it confined to the disabled. Is Revenge of the Nerds trying to tell us that the unpopular are okay because they can get the hot girl in the end? That those on the fringe of high school society are okay just because they are smart/clever? Both of those concepts have been used in popular stories as well, along with many more examples of those with disabilities or differences having some sort of special ability. A giant chunk of the comic book world is based off of this idea.

    Disability or difference of any sort is difficult to deal with, and I think that having books that take those differences and turn them into something special can be very fun for those with the disability. That is part of what fantasy is about: seeing something of ourselves in who we are reading and being allowed to live a larger life than what is actually possible through them. I agree that the world should accept those with disabilities and differences absolutely, but I don’t think a book like The Lightning Thief has anyone looking at a person in a wheelchair and thinking he/she is a centaur.

    As always, I love how you make me think Jen!

  3. Jen says:

    Is Revenge of the Nerds trying to tell us that the unpopular are okay because they can get the hot girl in the end? That those on the fringe of high school society are okay just because they are smart/clever?

    The problem is they’re all stereotypes. Instead of just being portrayed as human beings who just happen to be disabled, geeks or on the fringe of society it turns into an inspiring “it’s okay to be x because you’re really y!” Fantasy is all well and good but I don’t think there are enough regular every day stories where people with disabilities or the geeks or those on the fringe of society are accepted for who they are without needing to have something special about them.

    You said the following in your review: Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, he just seems not made for the normal world.

    Think about how that sounds for a minute – especially if you take away the fantasy element.

  4. Trisha says:

    See, that’s my point though. You can’t take away the fantasy element because this is, in fact, a fantasy novel, and hence the “not made for the normal world” construction of Percy’s character. I was not saying that those with ADHD or dyslexia are “not made for the normal world” in actual reality. I was referring specifically to the construction of a specific character in a specific novel.

    I also don’t agree that the story is ultimately saying “it’s okay to have ADHD because you are a half-blood”. The novel simply gave a reason for the ADHD; “you have ADHD because you are a half-blood.” Those are two different statements. I didn’t feel the novel said Percy was bad or negative because of ADHD and dyslexia; it was just a fact of his life and Riordan made up a reason for it that fit in with the fantasy story he was creating. To me, it’s sort of like the stories with say a blind person who has super hearing, or a deaf person who is really good at reading the emotions on someone’s face; the original state of the person is not a negative, it is what it is, and then the story gives them something extra in the same way some stories give non-disabled people special abilities.

    I completely agree that there aren’t enough regular everyday stories where people are accepted for who they are.

    And seriously, I have to say again that I feel like I have the best conversations with you. I really should show my students how this is done! :)

  5. Jen says:

    I feel like you are completely ignoring the point I’m making just because you don’t see it the same way. The “not made for the normal world” statement was bothersome because it actually does get said around disabled people. Just because it’s a fantasy setting doesn’t make it right.

    I didn’t feel the novel said Percy was bad or negative because of ADHD and dyslexia; it was just a fact of his life and Riordan made up a reason for it that fit in with the fantasy story he was creating.

    I’m not saying HE is bad or negative – I’m saying the way the story takes something real that and serious and pretends it’s something else. ADHD and dyslexia are something that needs to be dealt with in the real world. Either he stays on in Camp Half Blood for the rest of his life or he tries living in the real world. Well if he want’s to live in the real world he’s going to need to be given accommodations which clearly he wasn’t getting in prior schools.

    To me, it’s sort of like the stories with say a blind person who has super hearing, or a deaf person who is really good at reading the emotions on someone’s face;

    AGAIN these are stereotypes that get used way to often that cause misconceptions about disabilities. Remember this post: Learning to Pay Attention to the Stereotypes – People DO in fact pick up on things from shows and books and DO make assumptions about people they read about. People read about characters who are blind but can hear really well and assume it’s true for all blind people. People read about characters who are deaf but can read emotions/read lips and assume it’s true for all deaf people. It does happen.

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