Oh My Gods!
Oh My Gods!
Kare Bear, Sorry to interrupt. Come have a seat. How was your game, sweetie?
It was good. Jaelle still needs help playing support characters, so we went into penalty and got locked out of the next game . . . Mom . . . what’s going on? Mom? Hello? What’s up?
Weeeellllll … I was asked to curate for a huge upcoming gallery show . . . and they asked me to contribute a piece to it!
Mom!!!! That is so amazing. You’ve worked so hard for this, and you totally deserve it.
I didn’t even know you were applying for other jobs. I thought you were happy teaching?
Well, that’s the thing. I didn’t apply for the job – they found me and asked! I couldn’t believe it. This is my dream job! (Pp. 3-4)
It’s an everyday kind of day in suburban New Jersey. But Camila’s announcement of a new job is not everyday news. The next surprise is Karen’s learning that she is going to stay with her father for a while because her mom’s job isn’t local. Dad is someone named “Zed”. He just visits on the holidays, “weird random holidays” like “Panathena” (p. 5). Despite her misgivings, a week later, Karen and her mother head to Newark’s Liberty Airport where Karen takes Pegairsus’ Flight 2030 to Mt. Olympus. Yes, Mt. Olympus, Zed’s home. Nothing unusual happens in the boarding lounge, but, as Karen reaches the gate agent, he suddenly sprouts a pair of curly ram’s horns which disappear just as quickly.
Once on the plane, Karen is upgraded to a seat in first class; as the flight attendant tells her, she deserves “only the best for Z— For uh, your very first international flight!” (p. 10) The flight is uneventful, but upon landing, Karen is greeted not only by her father but by a huge entourage. Dad/Zed is a distinguished-looking grey-haired, bearded man, bearing a striking resemblance to classical portraits of the Greek god Zeus. A chariot driven by winged horses takes them to an imposing two-story villa where, through some sort of magic, Karen’s room is much like her bedroom at home. No reclining sofas, togas or sandals here. After multiple selfies and a quick phone visit with her mom, it’s time for dinner with Dad/Zed. He may be a god, but, at home with his daughter, he wears a hoodie, sweatpants, and slippers with cute animals at the toes. Dinner is pizza – every flavour combination available – and after that, a movie, before Karen heads off to sleep before her first day at her new school, Mt. Olympus Junior High.
The first day at a new school can be an anxiety-provoking whirlwind for any student, and with Hermes the messenger god as Karen’s personal guide, she is whisked around the campus at lightning speed. Lunchtime in the school cafeteria – it’s souvlaki day – offers Hermes a chance to point out the inevitable groups and cliques populating any school. There are jocks (the Titan football team), mean girls (the Fates), Hermes’ crew (“the mythbusters”) and a nerdy-looking guy named Jeff, who is “super into pancakes” (p. 35). A gorgeous and very kind young woman named Dita (short for “Aphrodite”) offers to take Karen to her history classroom where the teacher, Ms. Clio (the Muse of history) pairs her up with a STA ( student teacher assistant), named Athena. Athena – or Tina, as she asks Karen to call her – is the goddess of wisdom, a natural choice for the job. En route to PE, her next class, Karen bumps into a really good-looking guy carrying a guitar. His name is Apollo, or “Pol” for short, and his sister, Artemis, is in the same PE class. Pol assures Karen that she’ll know Artemis when she sees her: “Trust me. She stands out . . . She’s not great with people, but I’ll put in a good word for you!” (p. 41) It’s a bit of a hike to the gym, past enormous statues of Spartan warriors and centaurs and satyrs hanging around the lockers. Centaurs and satyrs? Karen just assumes that they are intense drama students, “super committed to the theater here.” (p. 42) In the gym, it’s archery class, and Artemis is up. Her aim is so accurate that she splits arrows already in the target, and her bow is special, so special that, when Karen reaches for it, Artemis gives her “hades”. But, Pol has put in a good word for her, and so Artemis cuts Karen some slack, along with a reminder never to touch her bow again.
It’s been a long day, and whether to hide her very tired eyes or because the sun is really bright up on Olympus, on her way to meet Tina at the library Karen dons a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, another girl, wearing a grey hoodie pulled down over her face, bumps into her. For a moment, the girl’s face is exposed, revealing extraordinarily intense and beautiful green eyes. Karen compliments her, leaving the other girl astonished that “she . . . can look at me.” (p. 51) In the library, Tina and Karen begin their daily tutorials and become good friends. But, while they focus on ancient Greek history, someone is lurking in the aisles between the bookshelves; the girl with green eyes is focused on Karen. Suddenly, the two hear a shout of horrified surprise, and, after a bit of tentative searching, Karen and Tina find a fellow student turned to stone.
That evening, Karen and Tina go to a local restaurant, Ambrosia, where Dita, Artemis and Apollo are hanging out, waiting for Tina. As Tina recounts the story of the student turned to stone, Artemis suggests that “the new girl” might be responsible, but Dita stops the vicious talk and reminds the group that they “need to remember to love and be compassionate.” (p. 71) After all, Dita is the goddess of love. Karen thinks that she saw someone leave the library but is unsure of what or who she saw. Of course, brainy girl that she is, in her backpack Tina just happens to have a tome entitled A Guide to Monsters and Mythological Creatures, and, as they eliminate the possibilities, Karen becomes increasingly skeptical. Of course, it could be a Gorgon, but Karen just does not believe in monsters, and, as she continues to profess her disbelief in the idea of gods and goddesses living in Mt. Olympus, her friends reveal their true mythological identities. Why do they appear to be Karen’s contemporaries living in the 21st century? Of course, Athena has the answer: “Immortality is boring . . . Some of us choose to be reborn and grow up in new generations.” Dita chimes in: “It keeps things fun! And it’s easier to adjust to the world with fresh minds.” (p. 79) Slowly, Karen comes to realize that she is probably a demigoddess and that she needs Zed to explain a few things.
Meanwhile, the green-eyed girl is sitting in a room filled with horror-struck stone statues, sobbing her heart out while being scolded by two other women with serpentine hair. That green-eyed girl is named Medusa, and it’s clear what happened in the library. Back at Zed’s house, Karen broaches the subject of her divinity with her dad, and he confirms that, yes, she is a demigoddess. That being the case, Karen is concerned that she might have powers, even the power to turn someone to stone. At school, she tells her friends that she wants to be cleared of suspicion, and they formulate a plan. But, as they’re trying to find out who might be responsible, there’s an encounter with the Fates, and then, another victim – Pol. Karen’s no longer a suspect, but who is? Just as Zed revealed that Karen is a demigoddess, several pages of backstory explain Medusa’s situation.
Dita, Tina, Artemis and Karen set off for the lighthouse where Medusa’s family are known to live. It’s dangerous, and there are some tense moments before Karen encounters Medusa in the room full of stone-struck figures. In mythology, Medusa is always portrayed as a horrible monster, but in this encounter, readers learn that she is profoundly lonely from her years of isolated life at the lighthouse. Like any friendless kid, she wants a friend very badly, and, when Karen showed her some kindness, she just wanted to introduce herself. Turning people into stone – that’s an accident, but Medusa accepts responsibility for it. As Medusa makes this sad confession, Karen reaches into her backpack, grabs her sunglasses, jams them onto Medusa’s face, and then, very courageously, asks Medusa to look at her. Medusa is overjoyed, but there’s still the problem of all those stone figures. Not surprisingly, it’s Athena who has a potential solution for reversal of the enchantment, and Karen has a real-world solution by which Medusa can compensate for her crimes. It’s not exactly divine intervention, but, for the first time in her life, Medusa has friends. A week later, Pol, Tina, Dita, Artemis, and Karen get together for an evening of movies and pizza, and they settle in for what Pol describes as “a nice, normal night.” (p. 198) Well, normal for Mt. Olympus. But, back at the school, the nerdy-looking guy named Jeff is wandering the halls and descends a staircase, arriving in a dark stone-lined area, illuminated only by torches. It’s the Minotaur’s Maze and the set-up for a sequel.
Oh, My Gods! offers a very different take on the some of the best-known characters of Greek mythology. Karen is 13, and these mythological deities are her contemporaries (although I thought that they looked a little older than junior high students). They display their typical attributes, but, because they aren’t yet adults, so far, they don’t demonstrate any superhuman powers. Athena is super-intelligent, Artemis is an accomplished athlete, Aphrodite is a caring and loving individual, and Apollo is a talented musician, but none of them does anything truly out of the ordinary. And Medusa just wants to make friends. As for Zed, yes, he’s the god with all the power, but he comes across as surprisingly human and endearingly out-of-touch with some aspects of mortal life, but definitely well-intentioned. Like most daughters of that age, Karen finds him a bit weird and dorky. Readers never find out how he and Karen’s mom got together, but perhaps that’s a tale for another book.
Readers who know their Greek mythology will smile at the authors’ many clever touches: Athena’s backpack is decorated with an owl (her symbol), Artemis and Apollo live in a house that has both sun and moon ornaments decorating the gate-way, Aphrodite is always tanned and gorgeous, and, as for the Fates, well, it’s not surprising that they are intimidating, but in a thoroughly modern, mean-girl way. Although these middle-school aged gods and goddesses live in the 21st century, they have very old-school cell phones, Athena does her research without Google™, and it seems that there are no computers in the Mt. Olympus school library. In some ways, it’s a bit refreshing. The illustrations are well-presented, and the change in coloration is effective in presenting the back story of the Gorgons. Greek gods and goddesses are often more human than divine in their literary portrayals, but readers don’t see too many mortal failings in these junior gods and goddesses.
Most importantly, Oh My Gods! is a story of friendship and acceptance. When you are in junior high school, whether in New Jersey or Mt. Olympus, you need friends. Karen is kind to Medusa, and Tina, Dita, Artemis and Pol quickly become Karen’s besties, and not because Zed is her dad, but, just because. Oh, My Gods! is a wonderful introduction to Greek mythology for students in middle school grades.
Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian (and long-time fan-girl of Greek mythology), resides in
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 Territory and Homeland of the Métis People.