I read The Iliad a long time ago, back in high school, and while the details are a little foggy, I don’t remember having nearly as much fun as I did when I read the new version of Homer’s ancient saga: Troy High. Shana Norris, the author of this updated epic, first studied Greek mythology in seventh grade, and in her author’s note she writes that, “The Helen of Troy story in particular has interested [her].” She explains,
I had always wondered how Helen felt, being taken from her home and family and then having so many people die while trying to win her back. How did all the other people who found themselves sucked into the battle feel? I always knew I wanted to tell my own story about Helen of Troy, but it wasn’t until I started plotting out Troy High that I figured out how I wanted to tell it. (258)
Troy High’s Helen is Elena, a beautiful cheerleader who’s forced to transfer from Lacede High to Troy High when school district lines are re-drawn. Lacede High and Troy High are “legendary” rivals, a fact the board of education failed to consider when it forces a handful of Lacede students to transfer across enemy lines, including Elena Argos. Elena befriends the novel’s protagonist, Cassie, who tells the story as she moves from the position of outsider to insider. Cassie witnesses the escalation of the Lacede-Troy rivalry from a unique position: her best friend Greg is a sophomore at Lacede; her two older brothers are football stars at Troy. Oh, and when Elena shifts schools, she shifts boyfriends, moving from Lacede football standout Lucas to Cassie’s brother Perry. To make everything more complicated for Cassie, Lucas is Greg’s older brother.
The novel begins, “It was a late Sunday afternoon when I kissed my best friend.” It might have been difficult enough for Cassie to sort out her feelings for Greg without a war led by their two older brothers, a war they’re both pulled into, a war that forces them to choose between their families and each other.
Troy High moves ancient wars onto modern playing fields: high school football fields specifically. These old wars seem right at home on their new turf. It’s a novel about pride and romance, popularity and individuality, love and loyalty. Some themes keep returning to us crossing seas of time and place. Reading Troy High forces us to wonder if perhaps the world hasn’t changed as much as it sometimes seems. Perhaps Agamemnon, Paris, Hector, Melelaus, Achilles, Odysseus and Helen aren’t just characters in some distant, dusty text. Perhaps they’re alive and well at your high school.
(Norris, Shana. Troy High. New York: Amulet Books, 2009.)