The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Greek myths meet fast-paced adventure in boy-demigod tale.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 64 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 437 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Many references to characters in Greek mythology and their stories: the major gods, the Titans, Echidna, Procrustes, chimeras, Arachne, Chiran, Charon, Cerberus, and more. Also shows the Greek vision of the Underworld -- the entrance is in Hollywood, but the layout below is the same, with Elysium, the Fields of Asphodel, and the Fields of Punishment. Kids can follow the quest's cross-country trip on a map with stops in St. Louis, Denver, Las Vegas, and Venice Beach. Some descriptions of what it's like to have dyslexia and ADHD.

Positive Messages

Teamwork and friendship. Resilience, resourcefulness, and bravery in the face of danger. A reminder to not let video games take over your lives when Percy visits the Lotus Casino.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Percy starts out as a failing student who's been kicked out of many schools for being disruptive. He has dyslexia and ADHD and uses his differences to justify his behavior -- even admitting to getting a Tom Sawyer essay for school off the Internet once. When he has a chance to prove himself, though, and find his place among demigods (kids with one Greek god parent), he's brave, resilient, and incredibly resourceful -- he tricks his way out of some sticky situations with vengeful Greek characters. He also adores his mom and would do anything for her.


Fights with monsters get hairy, with some injuries, but when the monsters die they fade to dust (except for one, who's beheaded) and when demigods get hurt, they can be magically healed. Percy's mom goes to the Underworld and is heavily mourned. Bullying at Camp Half-Blood involving toilets ends badly for the bullies. A car wreck, an exploding bus and police cars, and sword fighting. Talk of domestic abuse and a son realizing his mother had been abused. A ride in a truck with caged animals who have been neglected and abused. Poisoned insect bites and torture by being stretched on beds. Much imagery and discussion of death in the Underworld with talk of how people died and how they lived and where they would end up as a result.


Much talk of gods having affairs with mortals and their resulting kids, the demigods. Plus, talk of Ares and Aphrodite's affair and wood nymphs having a lot of practice running from lovesick gods.


Coke, Diet Coke, Barbara Walters, Oreos, Camaro, the Hilary Duff song "So Yesterday."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Percy's stepfather smokes cigars and drinks lots of beer. A taxi driver also smokes a cigar and a surfer mentions mushrooms.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lightning Thief is the first book by Rick Riordan in a long-running saga that includes five books in the main series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, five books in a spinoff series, The Heroes of Olympus, and five books in another spinoff series, The Trials of Apollo. Once kids get started with The Lightning Thief, they often blow through all three series. They're that popular. The best time for kids to get rolling is fourth or fifth grade. That's when most kids are ready for a main character like Percy Jackson. He's a sardonically funny 12-year-old with dyslexia and ADHD who is not so great with authority. In The Lightning Thief he finds out his absent father is a Greek god (Greek gods still inhabit the modern world and have affairs with mortals) and that he has powers of his own as a demigod. On a quest, his more heroic qualities come through. He's resilient, resourceful, and brave in the face of danger. There's a lot of mythology to keep straight and some tense monster fights. Usually the monsters turn to dust (though one is beheaded as a trophy) and the demigods get magically healed. There's other action violence as well, especially car accidents and exploding vehicles, and talk of animal abuse and spousal abuse. Percy's mom goes to the Underworld and is heavily mourned. Kids will learn a lot about the Greek idea of the Underworld. They will also have regular references to products, especially Coke and Oreos.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 and 9-year-old Written byslrohrer July 17, 2010

Be prepared to discuss morals with your child.

My son wanted to read it in 3rd grade, but I read it first. I feel that there's too much content that isn't age appropriate until at least 5th grade.... Continue reading
Parent of a 2, 4, 6, and 8-year-old Written byjennwhitmer October 14, 2010
I enjoyed the story, and it's action packed. The biggest problem is with the way the demigods were conceived. There is a lot of talk about the gods sleepin... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysupereader October 21, 2014


Get ready for the first book in two series that are favorites of many. I literally have nothing bad to say about this book. Having read the whole series (includ... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylexi the chihuahua August 9, 2010

BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

i was a little reluctant to read it during the first chapter, but after that it got better and better to the point where i was begging my mom to get the rest of... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE LIGHTNING THIEF, strange things keep happening around Percy Jackson. His boarding school teacher turns into a monster, attacks him on a field trip, then disappears, and no one remembers she was ever there. Who's Mrs. Dodds? they all ask. Then he overhears his best friend Grover talking to his favorite teacher about the danger he's in and how they need to protect him. When Percy heads home to Manhattan for the summer holidays, he and his mom decide to take a trip to the coast. A terrible storm kicks up in the night and his friend Grover appears, banging on the door, telling Percy he has to flee. His mom drives them to a camp she knows, one Percy's absent father told her about, but not fast enough. A Minotaur attacks and tries to tear the car and Percy to shreds. Percy wakes up much later in the strangest place he's ever been: Camp Half-Blood. It's where kids like him can train and be safe from monsters. That's when Percy learns his father was a Greek god, and Greek gods still exist and hold sway in the world. And right now the gods are warring and Percy's very existence may be partly to blame.

Is it any good?

This high-adventure series start imagines Greek mythology in the modern world through the eyes of a sardonically funny 12-year-old who many kids know and love. Percy Jackson's origin story and first quest as a hero combine in The Lightning Thief. He goes from the worst kid in a school for delinquents with the worst -- and smelliest -- stepdad ever to full-fledged hero in less than 400 pages, and readers will be rooting for him the whole way. While his friend Annabeth has the brains, it's Percy's wits that get them out of the most scrapes -- and that really handy ability to breathe and heal under water. Some of his ploys seem beyond the maturity of a 12-year-old to conjure -- like in the water park, and in Hades' kingdom, and in the waterbed store -- but kids probably won't notice.

The plot is more complex than you'd expect for a humor-tinged fantasy. It's hard to decide who the enemy really is and who he or she is working for until the very end. And some of the plotting is meant to build the five-part series, so there's still much readers don't know. Kids who read on will be rewarded with a series that is consistently well written and entertaining.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Percy's learning differences in The Lightning Thief. How does his dyslexia and ADHD come in handy as a demigod? For kids with dyslexia and/or ADHD, how often do you see yourself in main characters? Did author Rick Riordan describe what it's like to be dyslexic or have ADHD well? How are your experiences different?

  • What happened to kids at the Lotus Casino? Do you ever lose track of time when you're playing video games and having fun? How do they try to lure Percy back to the casino? Does gaming ever feel as addictive to you?

  • Will you read more in this series? And the follow-up series? Why do you think Percy Jackson books are so popular?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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