The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Juvenile: 5th-9th Grade
Magical Adventure Series
In this innovative series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan has broken free of the Harry Potter chains, and given us a fresh hero in a brave old world of magical adventure. The first book in the series, The Lightning Thief, introduces Percy Jackson, a mouthy, dyslexic kid with a little problem: he's the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and he's not supposed to exist. He's come to the attention of the gods on Olympus, and not in a good way.
To protect him from that danger, his mother sends him to a summer camp for other children of Greek mythology. A witty re-working of summer camp frolics has Percy vieing with the other "houses" at the camp, making alliances with Athena's daughter Annabeth, a satyr named Grover, and other scions of the Olympians. Before Percy can relax into this safe haven, however, they learn that the gods are at war, Percy's father is accused of stealing Zeus's lightning, and they need to go to Hades' domain to retrieve it.
The adventure quest is a staple of this genre, and Riordan has given us a good one. The underworld is entered through a record label's offices in LA, and the summer camp is on the Atlantic coast. When they finally get there, Percy and his friends must convince Hades that neither Percy nor his father is the lightning thief. If they fail, the gods will destroy the human race.
The action is fast-paced, other characters from Greek myth who appear in the novel are lightly drawn with a fun twist, and there are plenty of plot twists to delight the reader. The vocabulary is pitched to 6th-grade level, but for reading aloud, those Greek polysyllabic names will be a challenge even to older readers — Poseidon, Procrustes, Charon and Dionysus are a mouthful for many adults!
In a welter of Harry Potter imitators, this series is a welcome relief, but it shares with Rowling's series the appeal for both boys and girls, the sense of wonder and power in a good story, and the joy of reading as a magic all its own.