King of Ithaka

by Tracy Barrett

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

King of Ithaka is a new take on the ancient Greek story of the Odyssey. It's about Telemachos, the son Odysseus left behind when he went to fight in the Trojan War. As the novel begins, Odysseus has been gone for sixteen years, almost as long as Telemachos has been alive. Like boys in all times and places, Telemachos and his friends enjoy watching girls and are beginning to understand that the world is not necessarily a straightforward place that offers easy answers. But this is the legendary world of ancient Greece. One of his friends is a centaur.

In one scene, after a bard tells a story, a character comments, "Nobody expects a poet to tell the truth." It's a clue that things will happen a little differently here than in Homer's Odyssey. After guests in Telemachos' kingdom begin insisting that his mother give up waiting for Odysseus and marry one of them, Telemachos decides to search for the facts about his father. From the beginning, his quest is filled with danger. He consults an oracle better known for killing - and possibly eating - the people who consult her than she is for the usefulness of her advice. Her prophecy, typical of Greek oracles, is bafflingly difficult to interpret - until it proves true.

Telemachos faces one peril after another in his quest, many genuinely terrifying. Although a subplot involving racial prejudice may strike readers as an overused angle on a common theme, except for the target of the prejudice being a centaur, it doesn't overwhelm the story. The ending of King of Ithaka gives Telemachos a strong, satisfying place in a tale where, up to now, he was little more than a bystander. (2010, 261 pages. Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

More about King of Ithaka at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Other YA novels set in Ancient Greece:

Ithaka by Adele Geras (2001), about a girl in love with Telemachos while Odysseus is away from home and his wife is besieged by men who wish to marry her and gain control of Odysseus's kingdom. Recommended for ages 12 and up. More info

The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff (1995), a retelling of the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus and his struggle to return home after the Trojan War. Recommended for ages 10 and up. More info

Odysseus by Geraldine McCaughrean (2004). Recommended for ages 14 and up. More info

Nonfiction about Ancient Greece:

The Ancient Greeks by Allison Lassieur (2004). Recommended for ages 11 and up. More info

Troy: The Myth and Reality Behind the Epic Legend by Nick McCarty (2008). Recommended for ages 14 and up. More info

The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug Up Troy by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd (2006), about the nineteenth-century German explorer who found and excavated the site of the Trojan War. Recommended for ages 9-14. More info


Greeks 'discover Odysseus' palace in Ithaca, proving Homer's hero was real', a 2013 news article by Nick Squires in The Telegraph

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