Currently Reading: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
"Don't listen to her!" Annabeth's voice shouted, somewhere in the statuary. "Run, Percy!"
"Silence!" Medusa snarled. Then her voice modulated back to a comforting purr.
"You see why I must destroy the girl, Percy. She is my enemy's daughter. I shall crush her statue to dust. But you, dear Percy, you need not suffer."
Author: Rick Riordan
Synopsis: Percy Jackson's favorite teacher makes a point of emphasizing the importance of the Greek myths. But when another teacher turns into a monster and has to be fought with a pen-turned-sword, Percy's already unstable life goes wild. He and his mother run for their lives, his mother vanishes in a shower of gold, he fights a Minotaur—and winds up at Camp Half-Blood, learning that he's half-Greek god himself, and that Zeus wants his rear for stealing a very important lightning bolt. Can a fifth-grade halfblood save his mother, survive a trip to the Underworld, battle Ares, find and return Zeus' lightning, and figure out who the real thief is?
Notes: I can see why these books are so popular. First off, if this first installment is anything to go by, they make great reads. Percy's middle-grade voice is hilarious, clean, simple, and fun.
Second, if you think Greek mythology is confusing and unmemorable, you'll find it easier after this to remember things like the difference between Chiron and Charon. I like my Bulfinch, but Riordan does a cleaner job of making the names and stories stick in my head.
Third, the tale plays with some of the same themes and concepts as Harry Potter without looking copycattish. Grover, the bumbling satyr, and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, have a heck of a lot in common with Ron and Hermione (except bickering over everything and falling in love with each other.) But they don't scream Ron and Hermione to me. Like Rowling, Lucas, Tolkien, and numerous others, Riordan simply makes use of the symbolic body-mind-spirit trio.
As for the question of whether there's much real depth to the tales of Percy Jackson: it will take me more study to find out. I'll definitely go back for the sequels, anyway. I liked the book despite having had the weird experience of growing a little bit attached to someone who turned out to be the bad guy, and the requisite disappointment when my suspicions proved accurate. That doesn't often happen to me in a tale with archetypes.
A couple of little advisories: There's a bit more ambiguity as to right and wrong than I'm normally comfortable with, which would unfortunately involve spoilers to describe. Also, part of the mythology is a sort of "when people die, they see what they believed in life" kind of idea, which I just blow off as fiction, but which I suspect some people actually believe. Parent, know thy fifth-grader.
Recommendation: Do you enjoy middle grade fantasy? Have you procrastinated for years on really getting to know those strange and grotesque Greek myths? This is the book for you! At least, it was for me.