Review: Percy Jackson, by Rick Riordan

Yes, I know: where have I been these past six years?? It is the unforgivable truth, I had not yet read Percy Jackson. But now that I have at last, I thought I’d devote a Sunday review to the first volume, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson is the story of a twelve-year-old troublesome kid who turns out to be the son of sea god Poseidon. In a self-aware americanisation of Greek mythology, the book resolutely plays on the motif of hybridity – hybridity of the hero in a world that is in itself a multicultural hybrid, hybridity of genre, hybridity of time and space – to create an entertaining story that is not actually that simple, and which says a lot about how America perceives itself.

American culture is truly the focus of the book, and the displacement of Greek mythology in its heart allows for an interesting exploration of its current mixed feelings about itself.

It is a culture which, ideally, idolises the power of the individual, as illustrated so often in superhero comics. But it is also a culture which, in practice, fails to recognise ‘true’ power, clinically seeking to stifle it instead. In what is one of Riordan’s smartest inventions, Percy the demigod has been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, both of which betray his godly origins. This denunciation of the medicalisation of misfits is a nice symbol of a society which leaves its children’s abilities untapped.

Similarly, the book oscillates between a sometimes tiresome enumeration of bland American clichés (especially food, particularly processed and unhealthy), associated with the necessary road movie sequence, and a return to the wild furiousness of Ancient Greek mythology. This also gives rise, structurally, to a book modelled on the episodic form of the epic narrative, but in which most of the episodes are strangely reminiscent of a Goosebumps opus. The US in Percy Jackson is a sleeping society – one that has to look to the past for thrill.

In short, Percy Jackson is an amusingly ambiguous glorification of the US as the ‘heart of Western civilisation’. As the text patiently explains, Greek gods move Mount Olympus to wherever ‘Western civilisation’ seems to be at its peak; nowadays, obviously, it is the US. Riordan seems to clutch at this unquestioned ‘fact’ like a drowning man – and despite his faith in America the Beautiful, the whole book makes the US sound in fact like a civilisation in decline.

Medicated children, the flavourless reality of everyday life, a society which glorifies the famous individual but, left without true heroism, has to borrow it from ancient myths – this is Riordan’s America, and this is the enduring image of national identity that the reader is left with.

It is a lively, action-packed, fun book. The central trio is as attaching as it can be, and the joy of recognition of the many mythical creatures and characters makes for an entertaining read for the Greek mythology enthusiast. But it is, above all, a disturbing cry for help from an America faced with its own decadence.

by Clementine

Episode 3: Special Interview with Jonathan Stroud

This episode – which you can listen to by clicking

1. HERE     
, or on the media player in the sidebar, or simply get it from iTunes – is a very, very, very special one…

Owing partly to the power of Twitter, we were incredibly lucky to get the opportunity to interview children’s author Jonathan Stroud, whose bestselling books include the Bartimaeus series, famous for the highly original character of the arrogant and vulnerable eponymous djinni, and Heroes of the Valley, an action-packed epic inspired from Icelandic sagas.

Click each cover to access the book’s own dedicated website…

…or click here to access Jonathan’s official website!

(I know, it’s like magic.)



In this exclusive interview of Jonathan Stroud, we’ve stuck to our Kid You Not focus: looking at children’s literature from the publishing side and from the academic side. Luckily, Jonathan knows a lot about both, since he has a degree in English literature and used to work as an editor at Walker Books.

In this special episode, you’ll hear Jonathan talk about:

  • Why children’s literature is important!
  • Children’s editors who are aspiring authors in hiding
  • Why publishers are more likely to take on authors who are slightly schizophrenic
  • The voice in his head which became Bartimaeus
  • The truth behind stories, the reality behind fiction, and the adult liar
  • Bartimaeus’s life beyond the books
  • Masculine female characters
  • Legends and myths in Heroes of the Valley
  • Stephen Hawking summoning a demon

… and much more!

Listen to the episode and post all your comments and questions here. As usual, we’d love to hear from you and to follow you on Twitter if you follow us @kidyounotpod!

Thank you so much to Jonathan for giving up some of his Saturday morning for us, and special thanks to Georgia Lawe.

Clementine & Lauren

Review: Angel, by L.A. Weatherly

If you’re the ‘Oh please not another supernatural romance!’ type, just close this window and go tweet/ play Angry Birds/ do something with your life instead. I’m like that sometimes, too. I think everyone is pretty much fed up to the back molars with supernatural romance.

But now that I’m left with readers who have a slightly higher degree of tolerance for the accursed genre, let’s go on.

Angel is the story of a young girl who is a bit witchy and a bit rebellious, and who might possibly perhaps not be quite exactly human. And she’s in grave danger, because some people who are not human at all have noticed that there’s something strange about her. And the person they send to hunt her down unfortunately finds himself strangely drawn to the way she holds her hair and wears her tracksuit bottoms. A road trip and a final battle ensue, and between the two, a change of allegiances.

Sorry, this has been a bit of a dismissive and cynical review so far. The truth is, this book is so American, and so YA. By that I mean that it is full, firstly, of derelict cars and shabby motels, and secondly, of rebellious behaviour and sexual tension. Neither of which I have a lot of patience for, but you may do, and I’m just so totally cool with that.

However, this is not – no, really – to say that Angel is not worth reading. It is gripping, it is dramatic, it is enjoyable. But most of all, it has a very interesting and original feature – its depiction of ‘angel churches’ inspired from televangelical Christians in the US. This, I think, is truly where the interest of the book lies, and it is L.A. Weatherly’s best idea.

(The following paragraph gives away some information from the book, but nothing crucial past the first half.)

The ‘angels’ in the book are bad angels, but they are beautiful and hypnotic, and they feed on human souls. In order to sustain this diet, they entrance their ‘food’ into creating huge angel churches for the rest of the nation to adhere to and to be, in turn, fed on.

(End of spoilers)

The book truly succeeds at depicting a bureaucratic, impenetrable, mysterious, sectarian organisation which is almost a perfect mirror image of the American evangelical Christian churches with their factory-sized buildings and their governmental lobbies. A daring move, I think, on Weatherly’s part, whether or not she was fully aware of it, and one that, to my knowledge, no angry American evangelist has yet picked up on. Willa and Alex’s struggle against this battalion of beautiful, well-meaning monsters makes for a really quite neat condemnation of corporate and aggressively propagandist organised religion.

In other words, despite the deprecatory tone of the first part of this review, I did enjoy Angel and I would recommend it. There is a real social and political critique lurking in the margins of the clumsy romance, and I am looking forward to reading the next volumes to see whether it delivers.

by Clementine







Review: Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

When I was a real girl my best friend was called Cassandra…

Novels about eating disorders always disconcert me, as they are so hard to get right.  It is vital that the disease is portrayed sensitively, in order that the book offers the opportunity to understand what can seem an incomprehensible state of mind. Yet it is also important that the book does not act as a trigger to existing or potential sufferers, validating their behaviour or reopening old trap doors in the mind. This could mean that although the writing is responsible, it is not as ‘real’ or authentic as it could be. However, given that incidents of eating disorders are on the rise, both understanding and responsibility are vital when reading texts about eating disorders for young adults. Wintergirls (Scholastic) provides a vivid and sensitive portrayal of a recovering anorexic’s relapse and eventual ‘awakening’ into a healthy life, tracking the damage she causes to those around her on the way.

Lia is not always a likable character. A ‘typical’ selfish teenager anyway, the selfish nature of her affliction cannot be hidden, and it is grating to read of her treatment of her step-sister and parents. She shuts her mother out of her life, lies to her step-mother, and at one point succeeds in giving her little step-sister nightmares.  Through her the disease is not glamorised, she becomes a pathetic, pitiable creature the reader longs to slap. Or at least hurry up and realise what she is doing to both herself and her family. What I found the most convincing aspect of the novel was the depiction of depression. The metaphor Lia uses to describe anorexia sufferers poetically illustrates the disease: it locks the sufferers outside of society, into the cold. They become wintergirls: numb and trapped in a state of suspended animation as their bodies no longer grow and their future is postponed. What this metaphor suggests about mental health and depression is vivid and illustrative, striking a particular chord with me. The theme of isolation is repeated throughout the novel, as Lia describes herself as living on ‘the borderlands’, her memories are ‘ghosts’ and she is in ‘the dark’.

Difficult to read at times, and yet I was unable to stop, Wintergirls became compulsive and I read it in only one sitting. Part of me was annoyed that Lia was such an aggravating character, but this is clearly part of the depiction of the disease. As I reader I wanted to wholly sympathise with her, and yet this was tempered by my frustration with her attitude towards those around her. It is also fair to mention that there is a mystery involved to hold the reader’s attention – which it does – but anorexia dominates the book as it does the lives of sufferers and their families. There is compulsive calorie counting, suppressed urges and hallucinations. Beautifully and lyrically written, Halse Anderson takes the reader with her to ‘the borderlands’, as the poetic nature of the prose adds to this sense of isolation from reality and everyone else.

Engrossing and powerful, Wintergirls is definitely worth a read. Its depiction of the thought processes of an anorexic is extremely convincing, and helps illuminate the ‘logic’ behind a disease generally misunderstood. But it is a story about anorexia first, and a story second. The disease sets the pace, the tone, the mystery, the action. Everything about the book is surrendered to anorexia. Which, I suppose, is kind of the point.

By Lauren