Spoilers for all the previous Rick Riordan books from here on out, y’all.
It’s been years since I looked forward to a book as much as I looked forward to the new Rick Riordan book The Hidden Oracle. It’s the debut novel of a new series in Riordan’s mythology-themed universe called The Trials of Apollo, and as soon as it was announced I was immediately hyped. This wasn’t just because a new book in my favorite ongoing universe was out, although that played a part. It was because the most notable son of Apollo at Camp Half-Blood, Will Solace, is gay, and I was certain he would be the protagonist. Apollo was cast out of Olympus at the end of the last series, and I figured the Trials in question would be Will and his boyfriend and their friends going on a quest to redeem him.
I was totally wrong on that count, but I quickly overcame the disappointment of not having Will and my all-time favorite character Nico front and center. You see, it turns out that after Apollo was thrown out from Olympus and godhood, he’s stuck, sans powers and most of his memories, into the form of a mortal sixteen-year-old boy, and he is the protagonist of this book. And since Riordan followed mythology’s lead and kept Apollo interested in men and women, that meant that The Hidden Oracle, a book aimed at upper middle grade readers, has a bisexual protagonist.
Quick primer for the less publishing-ly inclined: upper middle grade means books for kids at the reading level of about a Harry Potter book. They don’t necessarily avoid complex issues, and they’ll still appeal to teen and adult readers of kidlit, but in terms of sexuality and violence, they’re not going to exceed a PG rating. It’s as grownup as you can get in terms of reading level without leaving the kids’ section and becoming YA. With that in mind, you can see how revolutionary this book is. While books intended for teens no longer shy away from addressing issues of sexuality or including queer characters the way they once did, it’s still exceedingly rare for books for younger readers to even mention queerness. It’s even more rare for those mentions to extend into letters besides the G in LGBTQ+.
The Hidden Oracle blows this out of the water. While Riordan never puts the word ‘bisexual’ in Apollo’s mouth, there’s no question that that’s what he is. Apollo describes himself as attracted to multiple genders and makes no qualms about flirting with the people he’s attracted to. In the end, it’s only by drawing on his feelings for his two great historical/mythological lost loves, Daphne, a woman, and Hyacinthus, a man, that he is able to summon the strength to overcome his first trial. These romances are given equal weight in terms of importance, and Apollo constantly reaffirms that each were equally valid and important to him.
Furthermore, Apollo’s bisexuality clears up some issues I had with previous books. When I first wrote about the original Percy Jackson books for a Throwback Thursday, I decried the lack of demigods with same-gender parents at Camp Half-Blood, given both the fact that demigod children are not necessarily born in traditional human fashion and the fact that various Greek deities were known for having same-gender romances. This book clears up that discrepancy; Apollo confirms that this certainly happens, and that many of his own demigod children were born out of his romances with men.
The Hidden Oracle marks the first time in my nearly twenty-six years of life, a solid seventeen of which I’ve been reading middle grade novels, that I have ever read a middle grade novel with a bisexual protag. As a bisexual person, it’s hard to describe what this meant to me. I didn’t realize how much I was missing having a hero’s journey narrative about someone like me until I read one. Furthermore, despite being characterized as both bisexual and a huge flirt, those are only pieces of Apollo’s story. His past romances color his character development in a huge way, but there isn’t a romantic arc to the narrative of the book.
Yesterday Luce shared an Inside Out fanfic that dealt with Riley navigating puberty and realizing she was queer. It underscored the fact that, while we are making some strides in showing queer adults in children’s media, it’s still a struggle to find LGBTQ+ characters who are kids. When we only see queer adults, it leads us to the misconception that being something other than straight is for grown-ups only. Riordan tosses this on its head in spectacular fashion. Not only do we have a bisexual lead, Will and Nico still feature as supporting characters, so this one book has not just one but three named, well-developed characters who experience same-sex attraction. The quantity means that Riordan can show that there’s no one way to be queer. As a god, Apollo typically exists outside modern norms regarding what it means to be bisexual, and doesn’t feel at all ashamed of his attractions. Nor is he inclined to “pick a side”, even when stuck in human form. Will grew up with his father’s support of his identity and the knowledge that they had same-sex attraction in common. Meanwhile, Nico struggled for years with feeling that his gayness was just one more thing that made him a freak, before coming to terms with it and finding happiness with Will. Rather than feeling like the story forced a majority queer cast on readers, it actually feels more realistic because it doesn’t posit that one LGBTQ+ narrative speaks for every queer person.
We talk almost constantly here about the idea that representation matters, but in case you’re out of the loop in terms of books for young readers, let me get you up to speed on why this book in particular is so important for representation. Rick Riordan is the upper middle grade writer right now. There’s no other established writer save J.K. Rowling whose books sell as well and as consistently. At Big Corporate Bookstore where I work, The Hidden Oracle has been number one on the kids’ bestseller list since it was released eleven days ago, and my store alone has sold more than eighty copies in that time. That sort of platform and sales record for a middle grade book with a queer protagonist is huge. And bigger still is the fact that Rick Riordan is published by Disney Hyperion, which, you might recognize from the name, is part of Disney. Disney Hyperion has a track record of progressive books from their YA writers, but this is a first for their middle grade stuff, and showing its Disney corporate parents that kids want to read about queer people might be the first step in getting said Disney corporate parents to consider making actual movies starring queer people. I look forward to seeing if and, if so, how, this series will change the game for the young reader market. And representation aside, this is a fantastic beginning to Apollo’s story, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.