The Percy Jackson Experiment

It’s time to talk about YA seriously. We enjoy it secretly, buy it for our Kindles, Nooks, and IPads so no one will see the covers of the books we read, and we deny its quality. We say, “I don’t read YA, but I guess I enjoyed Harry Potter. And the Hunger Games. Oh, and–”

Let’s stop pretending: YA is just another category we can store books. That doesn’t mean YA books are shined up like you’d expect: no, YA books we consider suitable for teens and preteens are full of guts, sex, and gore. Teachers can apparently even be fired for reading YA material to their middle school classes. No that that’s a problem. Books are the one great free place for children anymore, forbidden to see R-rated films or cuss. They can sink into the sordid details of books their parents never expect hold immoral pleasures, those same parents only happy “that they’re reading.”

In my formative years, when I had so much acne my face looked like a red scatter-plot and my voice screeched like a porpoise, I

resented reading YA books. I tackled lengthy Dostoevsky tomes, serialized syntactically-repulsive Charles Dickens works, and sometimes even excerpts of Keats.  Now, this all had a profound effect on me, this chasing after philosophical significance in each work I read. I craved classics, and they served both to entertain me and make me look like an under-aged literati. I scoffed at kids who read so-called YA books.

To be honest, anything from The Hunger Games to Ender’s Game to Treasure Island may be flukes. They may entertain more than just young adults simply because they are not meant for young adults. But let me impress upon you an important idea. In publishing, the marketing choice to make something YA usually does not come until the author has a deal.
Because of all of these revelations, when perhaps three weeks ago I was offered the chance to read the Percy Jackson series, I took it. I recently finished the fifth book, having devoured them quickly and rapaciously, even in the midst of exams. Getting hooked on any series when exams approach is as bad an idea as pointing a laser pointer in your own eye. Why are these books so addictive? I’m afraid you’ll have to discover that for yourself. Here is a synopsis of the debut.

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

This first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.

There are five books in the series, and I really enjoyed them. At first, I was annoyed by little things. The meaning of some events were vague, and a lot happened for no reason at all. But as the series progresses, Rick Riordan finds his footing in about the third book, the plotting much smoother, the character motivations much clearer.

I believe it is extremely important to pay attention to YA books because they capture very adult themes while delivering a tight, fast-paced plot. People complain a lot about books either being pointless or too pretentious, and most YA books hit that sweet middle spot.

Like I said before, I have not read many YA books, but I will suggest a few I actually did read.

1.) The Underlander Chronicles

Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games author) first wrote this brilliant, multi-faceted series. Absolutely fell in love with it in the sixth grade. Great action with some quirky twists.

This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny — and find his father — in a strange world beneath New York City.
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

2.) Chronicles of Narnia

Classic books to better get in touch with your childhood imagination.

Narnia is the land of enchantment, glory, nobility–home to the magnificent Aslan, cruel Jadis (the White Queen), heroic Reepicheep, and kind Mr. Tumnus.

3.) Inheritance Cycle

Like dragons? Fair enough. Read this.

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.

4.) The Bartimus Trilogy

Possibly one of my favorite fantasy books growing up. As I begin to delve back into fantasy, I remember why I fell so deeply in love with the genre. This dark and stylized book thrilled me.

Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine. In British author Jonathan Stroud’s excellent novel, the first of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story switches back and forth from Bartimaeus’s first-person point of view to third-person narrative about Nathaniel. Here’s the best part: Bartimaeus is absolutely hilarious, with a wit that snaps, crackles, and pops. His dryly sarcastic, irreverent asides spill out into copious footnotes that no one in his or her right mind would skip over. A sophisticated, suspenseful, brilliantly crafted, dead-funny book that will leave readers anxious for more.

6.) Perks of Being a Wallflower

Not a fantasy or adventure series like the rest, this too is considered YA. It is beautifully written and will break your heart and make you crack up until you wheeze for air. For even further awesomness, there will soon be a movie of this starring Logan Lehrman and Emma Watson. Count me in!

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

If you read any of these books, including the Percy Jackson series, you will come away with a new appreciation for books usually meant for kids. While at 18 I’m supposedly an adult (under the law), I am certainly still in love with imaginative stories that spark my mind and carry me to magical realms.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on May 30, 2012, in books, Characters, Childhood, classics, genre studies, Harry Potter, JK Rolwing, Reviews, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Some of my favorite books are YA books. I agree that they don’t get enough credit (especially from writers), though I hope with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, maybe that’s starting to change.

    With your permission, I’d like to post a similar post in my blog highlighting my favorite young adult novels, linking to your post as the inspiration.

  1. Pingback: Young Adult Fiction « writingatmidnight

  2. Pingback: Review: Divergent « Word Salad

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