To be fair, I was predisposed to like this book. A lot. After all, I love just about any and all retellings of the ancient myths and legends. So, when I heard the premise of Tracy Barrett’s, KING OF ITHAKA, I was already sold.
The story of Odysseus’ return told through his son, Telemachus? Brilliant!
A centaur side-kick? Love it!
A son of Odysseus that hates the sea and sailing? Ha, perfect!
And, of course, there is the terrific cover. My own thirteen-year-old took one look at the it, and exclaimed, “Whoa! Let me see!”
Thankfully, the story lives up to the arresting cover. Telemachus comes across as a very real teenager, fighting competing impulses to do the right thing versus just kicking back and enjoying himself. He is pushed beyond his comfort level to search for his father, even though he has ambivalent feelings about his possible return.
The mythological creatures—especially his best friend, the centaur, Brax—are vividly drawn, so much so that I found myself wishing there were more of them. Meeting familiar characters from the Odyssey—including Penelope, Odysseus’s father, the boorish men eating them out of palace and home, and even Odysseus’s old dog, Argos—felt both familiar and enjoyable.
And therein lies the risk in retelling the great stories: falling into the predictability of the “familiar and enjoyable.” Barrett, however, deftly sidesteps this pitfall with a series of surprises that I found both plausible and thought-provoking. I’d love to share them with you but I don’t want to give them away. Just trust me on this—you may find yourself looking at some of the characters in the Odyssey in a whole new way.
For those parents and teachers wondering what to suggest to kids who have outgrown the the Rick Riordan (THE LIGHTNING THIEF) series, KING OF ITHAKA is an excellent choice. Highly recommended!