The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) by Rick Riordan
I forget, sometimes, how much I love this book. I almost always love the first book of a series best. It is, after all, the book that introduces most of the core characters and sets up the rules. "Sea of Monsters," however, may well be my second-favorite of this series.
This volume begins on the last day of Percy's seventh-grade year at Meriwether Prep in Manhattan. Meriwether is one of those schools, dating back primarily to the 1960s and 1970s, that don't assign grades to their students' work. As a result, their final exams are something else. The final exam in English, for example, is on "Lord of the Flies." The class goes out to the playground with no supervision and a free-for-all ensues. Wedgies, mud fights, and other things of that nature follow, convincing the teacher that they all understood the book perfectly.
In physical education, they have a to-the-death dodgeball game. And it truly is to the death. There are six abnormally large prospective students there that day, with names like "Marrow Sucker" and "Joe Bob." As the dodgeball game progresses, the already pretty big newcomers seem to get even larger. And then they bring out the flaming bronze dodgeball balls. In the process of the "game," the outside wall of the gym is destroyed and Annabeth comes in through the hole and helps Percy and his friend Tyson save the rest of the class from the giants.
When the police are called to the site, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson make their escape and catch the Gray Sisters Taxi service (which is hailed by throwing a drachma onto the ground and yelling "Stop, Chariot of Damnation!" in ancient Greek) to camp. Along the way, the sisters give Percy a line of numbers: 32, 31, 75, and 12.
When they arrive at camp, they find it under siege, and in order to stop the siege, Annabeth has to allow Tyson to come into the camp. You see, she has seen what Percy managed not to notice -- Tyson is a cyclops and, therefore, a monster. The boundary of the camp keeps him from being able to come in.
The reason the camp can be under siege is because Thalia's tree has been poisoned. There is a hole in the bark oozing poison, and the poison seems to be affecting not only the tree, but also the entire hill it stands on. The dryads and satyrs are doing their best to keep the tree alive, but their best efforts will only slow, and not prevent, the tree's death. Dionysus believes that Chiron is behind the poisoning, since Chiron is a son of Kronus, and fires him. Chiron goes to visit his relatives in Florida and is replaced by Tantalus. The curse keeping Tantalus from eating or drinking is still in effect, though Dionysus swears that working at Camp Half-Blood ought to be torment enough that his curse should pass.
Meanwhile, Percy is having dreams of Grover being held prisoner by a cyclops who believes that Grover is a lady cyclops wearing goat-scented perfume. The cyclops, Polyphemus, has proposed marriage. To save his life, Grover has accepted. Grover is supposed to be weaving the fabric for his wedding dress, but every time the cyclops leaves the room, Grover unravels it to buy more time.
One of the thoughts that Percy picks up from Grover is "It's here," which Annabeth intuitively knows is a reference to the Golden Fleece, which is exactly what they need to rescue Thalia's tree. So, even though they have been told that they cannot leave the camp, Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson head off for the legendary "Sea of Monsters," which is currently in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, to find the Fleece and rescue Grover.
Along the way, we meet many of my favorite characters -- Tyson (of course), Hermes, George & Martha (the snakes on the caduceus), and Chiron's "wild kinsmen." We also briefly see someone who has a role to play in "The Son of Neptune," the second book in Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" series