Last July, Jia Tolentino published a retrospective review of E.L. Konigsburg’s 1996 masterpiece The View From Saturday. Her thoughts on the novel regarding its subtleties and the author’s clear, spare language encouraged me to read the book again. I must have been in 4th or 5th grade when I read it for the first time, slightly younger than the cosmically strange protagonists of the story, and I loved it. The idea of four precociously intelligent 11-year-olds bonded by an indescribable energy fascinated me at the time. Undoubtedly, I believed myself to be just like them, when, in fact, I was no where near as clever or formal.
The four students–Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian, aka “the Souls”–represent Mrs. Olinski’s 6th grade academic bowl team. They decimate the competition and find themselves in the finals. No one can understand how these four random students outwitted teams of 7th and 8th graders. Even Mrs. Olinski can’t quite identify what drew her to her team. As the novel progresses, the narrative doubles back on itself with pieces of the story fitting into place as each character’s perspective is told.
As with all good novels, Konigsburg manages to say a lot through very little. She writes cleanly and clearly, but there’s an element of mysticism or magic (sometimes overt) in the way she tells the story. In many ways, the spareness of the book’s sentences convey the preternatural clearsightedness of the children and their ability to understand the things about themselves that those around them cannot.
So many of the details in this story would have been lost on me as a child. I loved the story, and I understood the idea of it. I thought it was perfect at the time. Nevertheless, the deftness of Konigsburg’s writing paired with the intricacies of the story’s plot never would have occurred to me.
When I read it for the first time, I was focused solely on the four kids, wholeheartedly wanting to be them. Mrs. Olinski’s realizations throughout the book didn’t register with me as much as they did when I read it as an adult. Her character seemed perfect, then, and wise. But there’s a moment when she goes to Silington House for the first time and she is overcome by jealousy at the family interactions going on around her. It’s a striking moment of rage that exemplifies just how masterful Konigsburg is as a writer.
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is an incredibly funny and intelligent addition to any reading list, so if I find myself reading something that isn’t catching my attention, I turn to these books.
In my review of The Lightning Thief, I praised Riordan’s delightful sense of humor and effortless ability to integrate the stories of Ancient Greece and Rome into his narrative. The second novel in the Percy Jackson series–The Sea of Monsters–is no exception. Like Harry Potter and his friends in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Grover grow along with their expanding abilities. But they also find themselves hurling faster and faster towards an uncertain future in which Percy’s life could be at stake.
I especially appreciated the twist at the end when the reader find out that Percy might not be the only hero capable of fulfilling the Oracle’s prophecy. *SPOILER ALERT* Percy and his friends succeed in retrieving the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters in order to save Thalia’s tree–the only form of protection Camp Half-Blood has. What they don’t realize when they attempt to revive the tree is that Luke (who is now attempting to bring Kronos back to life and destroy the gods) intended for Percy to bring Thalia back to life the entire time. He believes that because Thalia’s father, Zeus, neglected her during her lifetime the way he’s been ignored by Hermes that she’ll join his and Kronos’ battle against Mt. Olympus.
Now it comes down to Percy and Thalia. Who will be fulfill the prophecy?
Of course, Riordan leaves us hanging at the end. The series’ next installment–The Titan’s Curse–is sure to bring along another heap of trouble for the heroes.
You could say I’m a little late to the game when it comes to reading Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. What can I say? I was all about the A Series of Unfortunate Events books back in my day. Alas, the only reason I’m reading them now is because a friend and I have started a snail mail book club. The book she’s sent me is related to the Percy Jackson books, and she insists that I read the original series first.
To be clear, I love children’s and young adult literature. I believe both Maurice Sendak and John Green have, at different points and under different circumstances, asserted that a good book is a good book no matter the intended age demographic. But I never thought I would be interested in Riordan’s books. If they didn’t appeal to me as a kid, I was certain I wouldn’t like them now.
Turns out, they are so worth reading no matter how old you are.
The Percy Jackson series is considered classic children’s literature now; it’s in a canon that includes Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Judy Blume’s books. All these novels have stood the test of time, and a place on the list for these books is well deserved. I honestly expected to have a hard time getting through the book, though. But I found no hint of juvenilia.
The Lightning Thiefshows that the best books for children do not contain language and themes specifically designed for children. They contain the same language and themes that are true and realistic for people in all walks of life. Like Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua, Percy Jackson knows much more of life than he should at the age of twelve. And I haven’t read another children’s book that deals with ADHD and dyslexia in a constructive and creative way. (Though I’m sure there other novels out there that do.)
The thing that compels me the most about children’s books is the depiction of rage in young children. Many books I read when I was the same age as these protagonists did nothing to reflect the burning anger that built inside me because of issues in my family. I found an outlet in music. So it was refreshing to encounter a book that I know many children at that age will relate to. Nevertheless, Riordan manages to characterize this angst with a great sense of humor, which is one of the book’s greatest assets; it never takes itself too seriously.
I’m happy to say that I get to spend my evenings reading books at home, and I have a huge stack to get through, but I plan to make room for Percy’s next adventure in The Sea of Monsters.