Sunday, March 4, 2012

YA author profile: Rick Riordan

Book cover: "The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan’s first Young Adult novel, The Lightning Thief, debuted in 2005. According to New York Times reviewer Polly Shulman, the book casts its hero in the “Harry Potter” model: “an ordinary boy who at first seems set apart from his peers, not by any special talent but by his painful home life and his difficulties fitting in.”

Percy, or Perseus, Jackson learns he is the half-human offspring of a Greek god and mortal. He is brought to Camp Half-Blood, where he meets demigods like himself. An oracle’s warning sends him and campmates on a quest to retrieve the god Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. The quest takes the teens to various locales around the United States.

Riordan works full-time as a freelance writer (Gale). He worked as a middle school English teacher from 1990 to 1998 and lives with his wife and two sons in San Antonio, Texas. Reviewer Bob Minzesheimer, in his review for USA Today, states that “Riordan, a former teacher, blends page-turning action with mini-lessons in mythology and history.”

Riordan has been honored both as teacher and as writer: he was given the Master Teacher Award by Saint Mary’s Hall in 2002 and inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in 2003 (Gale). The Lightning Thief was a New York Times Notable Book for 2005 and in 2011 the Children’s Book Council honored both Riordan and his book The Red Pyramid with Author of the Year and Book of the Year for Fifth to Sixth Grade respectively (Gale).

While The Lightning Thief was his first YA novel, Riordan is also the author of the Tres Navarre mystery series, the most recent installment being Rebel Island in 2007 (Gale). The series has been awarded the “top three awards in the mystery genre” according to jacket-flap publicity for a first-edition hardbound copy of The Lightning Thief.

The Lightning Thief is the first in the five-book Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which tells the story of Percy and his campmates at Camp Half-Blood.

A second series, Heroes of Olympus, introduces the gods in their Roman aspects. The Roman gods’ offspring have traditionally warred with the Greek demigods so they have been kept ignorant of each other.

The goddess Hera/Juno believes the Greek and Roman demigods must unite to defeat a common enemy so she causes a hero from each camp to lose his memory and then sends him to the other camp. The two heroes’ stories form the basis of the first two books in Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero and Son of Neptune. The second book closes as the two camps are on the verge of meeting for the first time — brought together by the two heroes, their respective memories restored but each with friendships he has now made in the other camp.

The Kane Chronicles, a series that centers upon Egyptian gods and mythology, opens with The Red Pyramid. The protagonists, Carter and Sadie Kane, are descended from Egyptian mages and can thus wield magic relics, decipher hieroglyphics and serve as avatars to particular gods.

The brother and sister have been raised separately: Carter with their father in Egypt and Sadie with their mother’s parents in London. The two are brought together after their father disappears during a failed spell-casting and their quest includes “London, New York, Paris, Washington, D.C., Memphis, New Mexico and Cairo” (Minzesheimer).

While the books draw upon different mythologies, there are key similarities in plot. Both involve quests to prevent the unleashing of destructive forces. In The Red Pyramid, matters are further complicated by the Egyptian mages’ order seeking to assassinate the Kanes.

In her review of The Red Pyramid, Anita Burkam identifies the “Riordan magic” as “equal parts danger, myth, and irreverence.” I think this an apt description. The teen protagonists are, first and foremost, teenagers who are very much part of the modern world.

The modern and mythological worlds blend in unique and original ways: Medusa is the owner of a lawn statuary emporium and is, as the name suggests, operated by the Amazons, female warriors of legend, with magical objects and animals among their inventory.

With his three series for young readers, Riordan has contributed fast-paced and entertaining stories. The Lightning Thief was adapted for film and released in 2010 by Twentieth-Century Fox (Gale), which may add further interest in Riordan’s YA series.

According to reviewer Vicki Donoghue, “Action-packed films featuring strong male heroes have a particular appeal for teen boys, who are notoriously hard to choose books for.” She credits fantasy stories such as Riordan’s with helping boys make the jump from film to books: however, I believe teen girls will also enjoy Riordan’s books, populated as they are with strong female leads who quest as equals alongside their male counterparts.

The third book in the Kane Chronicles series will be available this spring and the third book in Heroes of Olympus will be available this fall (Riordan). As Riordan says in his FAQ page online, “I’m trying to write two series at the same time, two books each year, so you guys don’t have to wait any longer than necessary for the next installment in either series.” This avid reader considers each new installment worth the wait.

Works Cited

  • Burkam, Anita L. “The Red Pyramid.” Rev. of The Red Pyramid [Kane Chronicles] by Rick Riordan, Disney/Hyperion, 2010). Horn Book, July-August 2010. Gale Cengage Learning: Literature Resource Center. Napa City-County Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2012
  • Donoghue, Vicki. “A Good Read: Teens can try a variety of fantasy book series.” Tri-City News [Port Coquitlam, British Columbia], 29 Nov. 2011: 22. Gale Cengage Learning: Infotrac Newsstand. Napa City-County Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2012
  • Gale, Cengage Learning. “Rick Riordan, American Novelist (1964 - ).” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Gale Cengage Learning: Literature Resource Center. Napa City-County Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2012
  • Minzesheimer, Bob. “Pyramid: It’s another towering Riordan tale.” Rev. of The Red Pyramid [Kane Chronicles] by Rick Riordan, Disney/Hyperion, 2010). USA Today, 4 May 2010. Gale Cengage Learning: Student Resources in Context. Napa City-County Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2012
  • Riordan, Rick. “Frequently Asked Questions — About Me.” Welcome to the Online World of Rick Riordan. Web. 14 Feb. 2012
  • Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. New York: Miramax Books, 2005. Print.
  • Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010. Print.
  • Riordan, Rick. The Red Pyramid. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010.
  • Riordan, Rick. Rick Riordan (camphalfblood) on Twitter. Web. 14 Feb. 2012
  • Riordan, Rick. The Son of Neptune. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011. Print.
  • Shulman, Polly. “Harry Who?” Rev. of The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Miramax Books, 2005). New York Times Book Review 13 Nov. 2005. Gale Cengage Learning: Literature Resource Center. Napa City-County Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.

Compiled for Cuesta College LIBT 118, Connecting Adolescents with Literature and Libraries

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