Pros: Fantastic characters, interesting plot, great mood writing
I have a real gem for you.
I can imagine you cringing right now. When someone over 30 hands you a book and says, ?This is a real gem,? you must shrink in horror. I mean, aside from the fact that we both like Harry Potter and John Bellairs, how can anyone my age possibly know what cool is, right?
Well, I guess I can?t argue the point. It might be true. But I?ll still jump up and down and say, ?Hey, this is a really good book.? Whether you?ll like it will only be discovered by you reading it. I?ll tell you, though, why I like it so much.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Kentley Snyder is a book that started out interesting and just kept getting better. We enter a different world from the moment we start reading the first page. Perhaps that is misleading?the world looks a lot like ours. There are lonely children, school bullies, strange adults, and heartbreak. It takes awhile to realize the world is different from ours. It?s the world that ours could be. It?s the world that is created through tolerance, imagination, and friendship.
Melanie Ross and April Hall are two girls you would never expect to form a close friendship. April is an only child from Hollywood who has never spent much time around other kids. She wears false eyelashes, swept-up hair, and a fake feathered boa wrap. She is snooty and insecure. Her mother is trying to be a movie actress and has paid scant attention to her daughter so far in life. The book begins when her mother dumps her off with her grandmother for an indefinite amount of time. Melanie is down-to-earth and friendly. She likes everyone she meets and comes from a very traditional family?both parents are married and live at home and she has a younger brother, Marshall.
Yet, despite April?s initial behavior, the two do form a fast friendship, one that has creativity and imagination as its foundation. They make up incredible stories and play games involving wild fantasies. They are the ones who begin the Egypt game?a game played in an abandoned lot where they find a bust of Nefertiti.
Before long, others join them. The 4-year-old Marshall is almost always with them and when 9-year-old Elizabeth moves into the apartments where April and Melanie live, she soon joins them.
While everyone is thrilled with the game, mysterious things begin happening and they have to be worried about a serial murderer in the neighborhood whose victims are children their age.
Delighting in the Themes
This book has a lot to recommend it. It?s very plot-oriented and all of the characters are well drawn and interesting. They are drawn to each other because they can see past their outer differences to find commonalities.
What pleased me most about the book, though, was that it was effective on multiple levels. First, it imparts a simple pleasure while reading it. The characters are always interesting and the plot moves quickly. Snyder is very good at setting a mood. I found myself thoroughly absorbed and wondering how each puzzle would resolve itself.
So on a purely surface level, The Egypt Game was an enjoyable book. It then proceeded to hold up under closer examination once I was done reading the book. Often I?ll enjoy a book while reading it, and then look back and be disappointed that certain storylines were left unresolved or that characters were either inconsistent or remained entirely unchanged. The Egypt Game did none of these things. Rather it was a well-developed book that wove in several themes without ever being preachy or losing sight of a novel?s primary purpose?that of telling a story.
Snyder manages to explore several themes: Abandonment, diversity, friendship, creativity, family, and community. It?s easy to see why many schools include this book as part of their curriculum. It would be easy to weave in all sorts of different lessons and activities in this book.
What Others Say
The Egypt Game has won a fair amount of critical acclaim. It is a Newbery Honor Book, an ALA Notable Children?s Book, and has a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. There is also a sequel to this book that picks up immediately after the last sentence of The Egypt Game. The sequel is The Gypsy Game.
The author, Zilpha Snyder, has written more than 40 books. I read a letter that she had written to her young readers and it sounds as though both April and Melanie are very much based on aspects of her personality. She wrote:
? when I wasn't reading or playing with animals I made up games and stories. I had games for every part of my daily life. Most of my games were secrets. At the time I thought nobody knew about them although, as I look back, I'm sure people wondered about the weird things I sometimes did. Things such as cracking an imaginary bull whip as I walked to school. (A journey that involved driving a team of oxen across a terrible desert on my way to the California gold rush.)
She grew up in the country in California and had no television, saw few movies, and rarely ever traveled. So writing and storytelling became the things that made her life exciting. That is also perhaps why The Egypt Game is so successful. Snyder knows her protagonists intimately and the readers can?t help but fall in love with them.
I?m reading and reviewing an overlarge stack of juvenile fiction in search of books that my 13-year-old niece would enjoy. With each book that I mail her, I?m sending along a letter sharing my experience with the book. After I strip out the strictly personal information that the letters contain, I?ll post them here as reviews. After all, my goal in the letter is to encourage her to read the book and make her experience with it more enjoyable, perhaps I can do the same for you.
* I?ve changed my niece?s name to protect her identity. Saralinda is a name I borrowed from another beloved children?s book. She?s the princess in James Thurber?s The 13 Clocks.