Review of The Labors of Hercules Beal

The Labors of Hercules Beal The Labors of Hercules Beal
by Gary D. Schmidt
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion/HarperCollins    352 pp.
5/23    9780358659631    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780358659570    $10.99

“It’s been a pretty lousy year and a half since the Accident, and the Universe owes me one.” Hercules Beal is still hurting from the loss of his parents two years before when his teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer (from The Wednesday Wars, rev. 7/07), throws him a lifeline. For his Classical Mythology Application Project, he’s assigned the twelve Labors of Hercules. He must learn the myths and consider how each of Hercules’s labors connects to his own life. When the sixth grader vanquishes a pack of feral “demon cats,” he realizes he has performed a labor akin to Hercules’s defeat of the Nemean Lion. Bravely pulling a woman from a house about to be washed out to sea is like Hercules’s catching the Boar of Erymanthus. And dealing with grief is like Hercules’s forcing the carnivorous birds near the town of Stymphalus out of their hiding places into the open. Although readers might wish Hercules had a couple fewer labors, Schmidt’s narrative keeps readers engaged with action, humor, and frequently interspersed 150-word journal-style reflections. He also has Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer teach a valuable life lesson: “You know, Beal, you’ve been fighting a whole lot of monsters this year, monsters much more real than any the mythical Hercules fought…But you haven’t crumbled, have you? And you haven’t disappeared. You’re still here.”

Pubissue-From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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