So this is probably my first book review on this blog. I was hoping to do more of this type of thing, but current events and my own easily distractible mind had me hovering over some more pressing topics. Today, we revisit the whole “talking about a pop culture thing and how it works into our own faith/life” thing.
Let me begin by stating my biases right up front: Rick Riordan is a fantastic author with a unique penchant for wit, sarcasm, humor, and the ability to weave a tales that are so different and at the same time familiar. I am one of those adults who have, I admit, had one of his books on pre-order for months and then read the entire thing in less than a week (with a busy schedule.)
Riordan’s unique characters include a startlingly diverse range of family situations, personalities, and voices that can easily spark discussion with each new chapter. He also draws heavily on mythologies including (at the moment) Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Norse. The protagonists are well-intentioned, flawed individuals who give nothing else than their best while learning the value of companionship, courage, and even sacrifice. These characters feel startlingly real at times as they struggle with single-parent homes, death, poverty, and race, all while battling against forces of evil that are seemingly unbeatable.
Riordan also does a great job at setting, I would say, recommended age levels for when to read these books, in a similar way that J.K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series. The issues covered and the challenges faced often coincide with the maturity level of the protagonist of the book, so an 11-year-old Percy deals with struggles that an average 11-year-old might deal with (aside from battling the occasional monster.)
So you’re probably wondering, “Well, you seem pretty positive on the books. Why write a post about them?” Fancy that, I was just about to answer that question.
The fictional universe of this book does assume that the gods of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology are very much real and capable of affecting the world by their actions. This can be both a challenge and a tool for Christian families. On the one hand, this will need some careful discussion to talk about the difference between fiction and reality (a conversation probably already covered) and also the difference between these gods and the God of Christianity. The gods depicted in these books can be selfish, fickle, and hold long grudges against specific characters, whereas we believe God is loving, faithful, and forgiving. The characters also have to struggle with faith (read here also “trust”) in their godly fathers (or mothers) in order to help them get past certain struggles or challenges. What better kickstarter to a conversation about prayer and our relationship with our Father in Heaven than to read about preteens and teens who have to work that sort of thing out during a battle or some perilous trial?
The latest book Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer dives into the life of Magnus Chase, a 16-year-old orphan living on the street. (A great conversation starter on how we interact with and treat those who are living with homelessness and what Jesus commands us to do about that problem!) He meets friends who are very different from him, including a girl who is still in the midst of dealing with the repercussions of being a Muslim interacting with Norse gods. The usual wit and humor are present in this novel, alongside some more mature themes such as arranged marriage, violence, and death. There are some wonderful moments where violence proves to not be the best option, which is always exciting to see, especially in a novel about Viking/Norse culture which thrived on many forms of violence. (And can I say, it is painful to write this much without mentioning a single spoiler for any of these series!)
I would encourage seeking out different points of view to challenge us, especially through books and subsequent discussions. These book series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard) can give kids adventures, relatable characters, and an opportunity to think through how they approach life and faith.
If you haven’t given these books a chance, yet, I highly recommend them for late elementary and preteen aged students. I also recommend reading along with your children so that you will be prepared when those conversations do come up, and because you might just find yourself enjoying them as much as your kids!
What books or series do your and your family love? Which ones have challenged you or your kids to think hard about life or faith?