No More Holding Out for a Hero

I know I’m not alone in having grown up reading Rick Riordan books. I started The Lightning Thief on the eve of my twelfth birthday, and I finished the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series within a week.  From then on, I was hooked. I would count down the days to when his next book would come out, whether it be in the world of Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Norse mythology. Of course, Percy will always have a special place in my heart—especially since our journey began when we were both twelve, and ended when we were both seventeen (I do so love serendipity). But, I fell in love with all of his new and recurring characters, and I will never tire of delving into a world overflowing with wonder, possibility, and heroism.However, I have come to appreciate the true importance of Rick’s books beyond my personal journey. What makes all of these stories truly impactful is that they allow people to see themselves as heroes, especially those who perhaps haven’t had the chance before.  

Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, has ADHD and dyslexia (just like Rick’s son Haley, for whom he originated the story), and has been kicked out of six different schools. Rick addresses this and not only makes Percy a smart, brave and, admirable character, but he also turns what might be perceived as a flaw into a strength. He explains that Percy’s dyslexia is attributed to his mind being hardwired to read Ancient Greek and that his ADHD is actually his natural battle reflexes. The same applies to Percy’s partner-in-crime Annabeth, daughter of Athena, who is not only super intelligent but also has curly blond hair, defying further stereotypes. All of this shows kids who might be struggling with academics that they’re not worth any less than others; they’re just built differently, and they can be their own kind of hero. This relatability has motivated a lot of kids to start reading, who had avoided it before.But it doesn’t stop there.  Rick Riordan continues to address various social issues in his later series, including race, religion, sexuality, nationality, and just plain being different. He introduces a slew of diverse characters who are memorable and admirable, not to mention unquestionably heroic. For example, *SPOILER ALERT* Nico diAngelo (from Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus) has to come to terms with being gay, having grown up in the 1940’s (it’s a long story) when it was strictly taboo. Leo Valdez (Heroes of Olympus) is the hyperactive Mexican-American juvenile delinquent who has run away from six different foster homes, but he also happens to be a mechanical genius with too much nervous energy.  Siblings Carter and Sadie Kane (The Kane Chronicles) are biracial and could hardly look more different—Carter has dark skin and hair like their father, whereas Sadie had blond hair and blue eyes like their mother.  Samirah al-Abbas and Alex Fierro, children of Loki (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard) are, respectively, a practicing Muslim girl who dreams of being a pilot and a gender-fluid teen who spent time being homeless. And that’s just to name a few.When I would read Rick Riordan’s books, I felt like it was possible for me to be a hero, too. Everyone has that right, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, how their mind works, or how they identify. Stories like these let people who have been traditionally misrepresented or rendered invisible have a figure to look up to, and encourage them to read stories and write their own. They also educate other readers about these topics, to a degree not often addressed in schools, which helps build understanding and acceptance.  

YA literature is often disregarded as being “just for kids,” but there are a lot of lessons for adult readers as well (my dad can attest—you never outgrow a good story). Plus, trust me—this guy knows his mythology, so there’s really a lot you can glean from his modernization of classical stories. So next time you’re looking for an adventure, look no further than good old Uncle Rick.


Image credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3