Book Review of The Lightning Thief (Book 1 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians) by Rick Riordan

What My Kids Read: Book Review of Percy Jackson and the Olympians The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This book review was requested by a reader. The Lightning Thief is the first of the five books in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. The series is based on Greek mythology, but set in modern day America. Eleven-year-old Percy Jackson discovers that his absent father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea, making Percy a demi-god.

I’ll be honest. This book is the reason why I now review books for my kids. Liam read this as a 7-year-old, and it was completely inappropriate. I had read many reviews, and the only problem Christian reviewers seemed to have was that there were false gods presented as real. I wasn’t worried about Liam suddenly being inspired to worship the Greek gods, so we let him read the book. No one mentioned the completely dysfunctional family relationships that are the heart and soul of Greek mythology. I mean, think about it, many of the stories in Greek mythology deal with someone either trying to kill his father, brother, uncle, etc. and/or sleeping with someone else’s wife. Greek mythology is full of illegitimate children, some dearly loved, some hated by their father or mother, and all of them are fighting and tricking each other… It’s a regular soap opera! Reading them as myths makes them seem more symbolic, but this series brings Greek mythology into the present, and it is just not something a 7-year-old needs to read! In Rick Riordan’s defense, I’m sure the book is written for middle schoolers, not for my little second grader, but parents need to be aware that this book opens up lots of issues about family and authority – much like any study of Greek mythology. So, I’m cautious about this series, but I may let Liam read these books in the next few years. It depends more on what we see him struggling with than the actual content in this book.

*Parents should note that this series is about a boy against the world. He has to save it by himself. Authorities cannot be trusted, and only Percy can save the day with some help from his friends. He cannot even trust his father. In the end of this book, he is betrayed by a friend, so he really is alone in his fight. If your child has a hard time accepting the authority of others, thinking he or she always knows best, this series will definitely reinforce that belief.

My Mom-Meter gives The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan a rating of 4 (Extreme Caution) for ages 10 and up.

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsModerately Safe: Brief mentions, not glorified at all

BullyingModerately Safe - Brief mentions, not glorified

Disrespectful AttitudesExtreme Caution - definitely questions authority and glorifies that

Gambling:Moderately Safe - mentioned, but not glorified

Gross BehaviorSafe - not much gross behavior

LanguageSafe - no actual four-letter words

Magic/SupernaturalExtreme Caution - it is about Greek mythology, obviously filled with magic

Romance/SexCaution - infidelity is mentioned multiple times. All of the demi-god children results of affairs.

Scary ThemesExtreme Caution - lots of terrifying situations, being attacked by monsters and fighting with weapons

ViolenceExtreme Caution - lots of fighting and near-death experiences

Plot summary of The Lightning Thief: ***Contains Spoilers***

Wikipedia has decent plot summaries for all five books of the series here.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in The Lightning Thief:

  • Percy finds out that his father is Poseidon, making him a demi-god or “half-blood.” This could prompt a discussion about race. 
  • Percy says “Kronos… didn’t trust his kids, who were gods. So, um, Kronos ate them, right? But his wife hid baby Zeus, and gave Kronos a rock to eat instead. And later, when Zeus grew up, he tricked his dad, Kronos, into barfing up his brothers and sisters…” Mr Brunner answers “Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children, who, of course, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in the Titan’s stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him to pieces with his own scythe, and scattered his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld.” There a lot of family issues going on just in this story. Kronos distrusted his children, so he ATE them. They slice their father up and scatter his remains. Later in this book, you find that Kronos is behind the entire plot to start a war between his three sons, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Once they had torn each other to bits, then Kronos would seize power again.
  • Percy resents his father for leaving him, not marrying his mother, not taking care of them.
  • Chiron tells Percy “Gods – the forces you call the Greek gods – are very much alive.” Percy says “You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God.” Chiron says “God – capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t deal with the metaphysical… gods, plural, as in , great being that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That’s a smaller matter.” You might want to talk to your child about whether God would exist in a world with gods. What would the Greek mythology look like if God was ruling over everything (considering that the Greek gods answer only to each other).
  • Several times in the story, Percy does not tell his friends the whole truth. He doesn’t tell his mother about his math teacher (a Fury) attacking him or about the old ladies knitting (the Fates). It nearly kills him. But he doesn’t learn him lesson. He doesn’t tell Chiron or his friends everything that the Oracle said. They needed to know what the Oracle said, but instead they all made mistakes along the way. How do you think the story would change if Percy had told his mom about the Fates? What would have changed if he told Chiron and his friends everything the Oracle said?
  • Annabeth tells Percy that sometimes the gods do not claim their children. She says, “The gods are busy. They have lots of kids and they don’t always… Well, sometimes, they don’t care about us, Percy. They ignore us.” I thought about some of the kids I’d seen in the Hermes cabin, teenagers who looked sullen and depressed, as if they were waiting for a call that would never come. I’d known kids like that at Yancy Academy, shuffled off to boarding school by rich parents who didn’t have the time to deal with them. But the gods should behave better. This book makes the point that there are some parents that don’t care. Is that true?
  • Percy’s mom, Sally, lives with Gabe to protect Percy. Gabe smelled so repulsively human that his presence covered Percy’s scent and kept the monsters from finding him. Percy realizes that his stepfather, Gabe, has abused his mom. “For the first time, I realized something. Gabe had hit my mother. I didn’t know when or how much. But I was sure he’d done it. Maybe it had been going on for years, when I wasn’t around.” Near the end of the book, it is implied that Percy’s mom finally had enough of Gabe’s abuse. She uses Medusa’s severed head to turn him into stone, and sold his statue as art. How does Percy’s mom compare to the gods who are uncaring parents? You might want to talk about domestic abuse with your kids. Do you think that Sally was right to kill Gabe? What else could she have done instead?
  • Percy and his friends get trapped in the Lotus Hotel and Casino. They play and eat, and lose all track of time. Percy meets a boy who has been there since 1977, but hasn’t aged at all. He thinks he has only been there for 2 weeks. Percy finds out that everyone in the casino think they have only been there a short time. When Percy and his friends finally leave, they find that they had been in there for 5 days. You might want to talk to your kids about how real casinos can be addictive like that.
  • When Percy visit the Underworld, “I found myself muttering a prayer, though I wasn’t quite sure who I was praying to. Down here, only one god mattered, and he was the one I had come to confront.” Later, there is a preacher being frisked in the Underworld. “But if he’s a preacher,” I said, “and he believes in a different hell…” Grover shrugged. “Who says he’s seeing this place the way we’re seeing it? Humans see what they want to see….” You might want to talk about how, even in the Underworld, Percy has a hard time believing that there isn’t a God who cares about him and is able to help him. 
  • “I thought of how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to the Fields of Asphodel or even the Fields of Punishment. So few people did good in their lives. It was depressing.” You might want to talk to your child about what your family believes about death, judgement, and the afterlife.
  • Percy notices the Hades is an imitation on Olympus, where Hades was banished from. “I realized that Hades must’ve built his palace to resemble this one. He wasn’t welcomed in Olympus except on winter solstice, so he’s built his own Olympus underground. I felt a little sorry for the guy. To be banished from this place seemed really unfair. It would make anyone bitter.” Knowing how evil Hades really is, did you feel sorry for him?
  • “I got the feeling Poseidon really didn’t know what to think of me. He didn’t know whether he was happy to have me for a son or not. In a strange way, I was glad that Poseidon was so distant. If he’d tried to apologize, or told me he loved me, or even smiled, it would’ve felt fake. Like a human dad, making some lame excuse for not being around. I could live with that. After all I wasn’t sure about him yet, either.” Is that the way that a father should treat him son – as if he is not sure if he is happy to have him? Don’t you think that Poseidon had known about Percy for 12 years and should have already made up his mind? Do you think that Percy was okay with Poseidon being distant because Percy liked being independent?

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • “Magic mushrooms” and “bad mushrooms” are mentioned as a joke.
  • Gabe’s poker parties had beer cans strewn all over the apartment. It smelled like “cigars and stale beer.”
  • Gabe smokes a cigar.
  • Gabe spends his money on cigars “and on beer, of course. Always beer.”
  • Dionysius (god of wine) is punished by being appointed director at the Half-Blood Camp. He is not supposed to have alcohol. “‘if there was one thing I had learned from living with Gabe, it was how to tell when an adult has been hitting the happy juice. If Mr. D was a stranger to alcohol, I was a satyr.” Mr. D tries to drink red wine, but he is reprimanded by a rumble of thunder.
  • Dionysus was first punished by being sent to America during the Prohibition for 10 years.
  • “Drunken warriors” are mentioned once.

Bullying:

  • A girl at school throws “chunks of peanut butter-and-ketchup sandwich” at the back of Grover’s head.
  • Ares’ daughters bully Percy as the new kid at camp. They overpower him, and are about to shove his head in the toilet when he uses his power over water to blast them away. Clarrise, Ares’ daughter that leads his cabin, says,”You are dead, new boy.”
  • Ares’ daughter, Clarrise, bullies Percy throughout the book.
  • Percy realizes that his stepfather, Gabe, has abused his mom. “For the first time, I realized something. Gabe had hit my mother. I didn’t know when or how much. But I was sure he’d done it. Maybe it had been going on for years, when I wasn’t around.”
  • It is implied that Percy’s mom finally had enough of Gabe’s abuse. She uses Medusa’s severed head to turn him into stone, and sold his statue as art to pay for her to go to college.

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Throughout the book, Percy sees how much the gods cannot be trusted as parents or even as authority figures.
  • Kronos, father of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, ate his kids so that they would not overthrow him. His wife hid baby Zeus, and when Zeus grew up, he tricked his father, Kronos, into “throwing up his kids.”
  • Percy calls a teacher an “old sot.”
  • Percy has a terrible stepfather. Percy refers to him as his “obnoxious stepfather” who has “stupid poker parties.”
  • When Gabe said that there was no such color as blue, Percy’s mom goes out of her way to buy blue food (blueberry smoothies, blue jelly beans, etc.). Percy says admiringly “She did have a rebellious streak, like me.”
  • Percy resents his father for leaving him, not marrying his mother, not taking care of them. “The more I thought about it, I resented Poseidon for never visiting me, never helping my mom, never even sending a lousy child-support check.”
  • Poseidon tells Percy that Percy is like him. “The sea does not like to be restrained.” 

Gambling:

  • Percy’s stepfather, Gabe, has “stupid poker parties.” His poker parties are referred to many times.
  • Gabe expects Percy to give him money for Gabe’s gambling. “He called that our ‘guy secret.’ Meaning, if I told my mom, he’d punch my lights out.”
  • Percy and his friends end up at the Lotus Casino in Las Vegas. They are sucked in, playing games, and lose track of time for 5 days before coming to their senses. It’s actually a good presentation of the dangers of casinos.

Gross Behavior:

  • Kronos, father of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, ate five of his kids so that they would not overthrow him. His wife hid baby Zeus, and when Zeus grew up, he tricked his father, Kronos, into “barfing” out his children.
  • Two of Gabe’s poker buddies “passed gas in harmony.”
  • Grover has a nervous bladder. Whenever ge got upset,  Grover’s bladder acted up.”
  • “Pooped” is used once. “If a seagull so much as pooped on his paint job, he’d find a way to blame me.”
  • “Butt” is used three times.
  • “Pooper scooper” is mentioned once.
  • When Percy chops off Medusa’s head, there is green blood oozing out.
  • Percy plans to “whup some Underworld butt.”

Language:

  • Percy says in anger “I’m going to kill her.” (about a girl bullying his best friend)
  • “Shut up” is said many times throughout the book.
  • “Doofuses” is used once.
  • Percy and Grover sit apart from the class so that it won’t look like they belong with the school of “loser freaks.”
  • “Stupid” is used many times throughout the book.
  • “Oh Styx!” is said once as a curse word. (The Styx is the river that runs through the Underworld in Greek Mythology).
  • A Greek curse is said once: “Erre es korakas!” meaning “Go to the crows!”
  • A bully calls Percy “idiot” and “corpse-breath worm” when he breaks her spear.
  • Percy shouts a Greek curse: “Braccas meas vascimini!” meaning “Eat my pants!”
  • “Jeez” is used once.

Magic/Supernatural:

  • The entire book is full of mythological creatures: gods, Satyrs, naiads, the Minotaur, the Furies, Hades (the Lord of the Dead), dryads, demi-gods, centaurs, Titans, hell-hound, etc.
  • Luck is mentioned throughout the book.
  • Percy thinks that his teacher treats him like he is “devil spawn.”
  • Percy is told that he was hallucinating “demon math teachers.” “Demonic math teacher” is mentioned a couple of times.
  • Percy see the three Fates as three old ladies knitting. One of them cuts some yarn while looking at him, which means someone will die.
  • Percy’s best friend Grover is a satyr.
  • Percy’s Mother, Sally, is turned into golden light when the Minotaur is about to kill her.
  • There is a story of a daughter of Zeus being killed right before making it to the safety of the Half-Blood Camp. She is turned into a tree to protect the camp.
  • Dionysus waves his hand, and a goblet of red wine appears.
  • “Ghastly!” is said once.
  • There is a “Mist” that keeps humans from noticing supernatural things.
  • Percy consults the Oracle, which is a mummy. “Not the wrapped-in-cloth kind, but a human female body shriveled to a husk… A green mist poured from the mummy’s mouth… I heard a voice slithering into one ear and coiling around my brain: ‘I am the spirit of Delphi, speaker of the prophecies of Phoebus Apollo, slayer of the mighty Python. Approach, seeker, and ask.'” The Oracle give Percy 4 prophecies that come true.
  • Percy plans to travel to the Underworld and bring back his mother from the dead.
  • Percy has a ballpoint pen that turns into a sword when the cap is taken off. It also will return to Percy if he loses it.
  • Luke gives Percy flying shoes.
  • Annabeth has a ball cap that makes the person wearing it invisible.
  • Satyrs have the ability to read emotion.
  • A Fury threatens Percy “Hades will have your soul.”
  • Grover wants to earn a “searcher’s license” to go search for Pan, God of the Wild Places.
  • The word “Zombie” is mentioned once.
  • There is a Chimera “It had the head of a lion with a blood-caked mane, the body and hooves of a giant goat, and a serpent for a tail, a ten-foot-long diamondback growing right out of its shaggy behind.”
  • Because Percy is Poseidon’s son, he can breathe underwater and doesn’t get wet in the water unless he chooses to be wet.
  • When Percy visit the Underworld, “I found myself muttering a prayer, though I wasn’t quite sure who I was praying to. Down here, only one god mattered, and he was the one I had come to confront.”
  • There is a preacher being frisked in the Underworld. “But if he’s a preacher,” I said, “and he believes in a different hell…” Grover shrugged. “Who says he’s seeing this place the way we’re seeing it? Humans see what they want to see….”
  • In the Underworld, there are three different judgements for the dead. Elysium: Annabeth says “That’s the place for heroes.” The Fields of Asphodel: for ordinary people, just a boring place. The Fields of Punishment: full of tortures for the wicked. But I thought of how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to the Fields of Asphodel or even the Fields of Punishment. So few people did good in their lives. It was depressing.
  • Sally uses Medusa’s head to turn Gabe to stone.

Romance/Sex:

  • A girl laughs about a “naked guy” on a piece of Greek funeral art.
  • Percy’s parents were not married. “See, they weren’t married. She told me he was rich and important, and their relationship was a secret. Then one day, he set sail across the Atlantic on some important journey, and he never came back.”
  • Dionysus was punished for “taking a fancy to a wood nymph who had been declared off-limits.” He says “The second time, well, she really was pretty, and I couldn’t stay away.”
  • Percy is warned that “naiads are terrible flirts.”
  • “What’s the most common thing gods did in the old stories? They ran around falling in love with humans and having kids with them. Did you think they’ve changed their habits in the last few millennia?”
  • Wood nymphs says that they have had “centuries of practice running away from lovesick gods.”
  • There are hints throughout the story that Annabeth has a crush on Luke. She blushes when she talks to him, is shocked when he gives her a hug, and is embarrassed when he sees her in dirty clothes.
  • Athena caught Poseidon with his girlfriend in her temple. Later on, you find out that “girlfriend” was Medusa, and Athena turned Medusa into a hideous woman (whose looks turn people to stone) as punishment.
  • Ares left a shield at an amusement park where he was meeting his girlfriend. “I was going on a little…date with my girlfriend. We were interrupted.”
  • Ares’ girlfriend is Aphrodite. Percy says “I thought she was married to somebody.” Grover asks “What’s your point?”
  • Percy asks “What about Aphrodite’s husband?” Annabeth says “Hephaestus. The blacksmith… he isn’t exactly handsome… He caught them together once. I mean, literally caught them in a golden net, and invited all the gods to come and laugh at them. Hephaestus is always trying to embarrass them.”

Scary Themes:

  • The Minotaur chases Percy, Grover, and Sally (Percy’s mother). Lightning strikes their car, and they barely escape. The Minotaur picks up Sally to strangle her, and she turns to golden light and disappears. Percy thinks she died, but he later learns she is being held hostage.
  • Percy attacks the Minotaur and kills it. Very intense scene.
  • Percy looks into Dionysus’ eyes “I saw visions of grape vines choking unbelievers to death, drunken warriors insane with battle lust, sailors screaming as their hands turned to flippers, their faces elongating into dolphin snouts. I knew that if I pushed him, Mr. D would show me worse things. He would plant a disease in my brain that would leave me wearing a strait-jacket in a rubber room for the rest of my life.”
  • The Furies find Percy and his friends on a Greyhound bus and attack. Annabeth and Grover tell Percy to run, but he stays and fights for his friends. He beats two of the Furies, and they escape.
  • Medusa has a shop full of statues, people she has turned into stone. Percy and his friends are nearly turned to stone by her, but manage to kill her after all.
  • Percy and his friends are caught by Procrustes, The Stretcher, who insists that everyone should be 6 feet tall. If they are too short, he stretches them with ropes, if they are too short, he chops the head and feet off. Percy tricks him, and cuts off his head.
  • The description of the Styx is really creepy.
  • Percy and his friends are almost sucked into the tunnel to Tartarus. “It smelled evil down here. It made me think of things I should even know about – blood spilled on an ancient stone altar, the foul breath of a murderer.”

Violence:

  • Percy says “I’ll kill her” after a girl bullies his best friend (he doesn’t). Percy glares at the girl with an “I’ll-kill-you-later stare.”
  • Percy’s math teacher turns into one of the Furies and attacks Percy. Percy is given a pen that turns into a Roman sword, and he kills the Fury with it. She turns into powder and disappears.
  • Percy attacks the Minotaur by snapping off one of its horns and stabbing it with the horn.
  • There is a story of a daughter of Zeus being killed right before making it to the safety of the Half-Blood Camp. She is turned into a tree to protect the camp.
  • There are lots of references to different kinds of Roman weapons. Percy carries a ballpoint pen that turns into a sword. Ares has a huge sword. Luke has a sword that can kill mortals and immortals.
  • The Furies find Percy and his friends on a Greyhound bus and attack. Annabeth and Grover tell Percy to run, but he stays and fights for his friends. He beats two of the Furies, and they escape.
  • Percy and his friends have to fight Medusa without looking at her. Percy has to chop off her head while only looking at reflections of her.
  • Percy is attacked by Echidna, who is reptilian, and a Chimera inside the top of the St. Louis Arch. The Chimera blasts a hole in the Arch, and Percy falls into the Mississippi River.
  • Percy and his friends are caught by Procrustes, The Stretcher, who insists that everyone should be 6 feet tall. If they are too short, he stretches them with ropes, if they are too short, he chops the head and feet off. Percy tricks him, and cuts off his head.
  • The “Mist” makes human onlookers see guns in the hands of Ares and Percy while they are fighting with swords. It looks like Ares is holding a shotgun instead of a two-handed sword.
  • Percy fights Ares and wounds his heel. It is an intense fight scene.
  • Luke tries to kill Percy by releasing a horrible venomous scorpion to sting Percy. Percy slices it in two, but he is poisoned and barely survives.
  • Sally uses Medusa’s head to turn Gabe into a statue.
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The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
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Comments

  1. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.
    davidsimms224@yahoo.com

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