Friday, April 1, 2011

The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

April is the new girl - her mother lives in Hollywood and has sent April to stay with her grandmother while she goes on tour. April befriends Melanie, who lives downstairs, and the two of them (along with Melanie's younger brother Marshall) find an abandoned storage yard where they set up some "junk" to look like an Egyptian temple. One thing leads to another, and they pass the summer vacation away there, devising ceremonies and stories to go with them. Marshall gets to be the boy-king of Egypt, Marshamosis.

School starts, and another girl (Elizabeth) moves into their apartment building. They walk to school with her, and eventually invite her to join them in Egypt in the afternoons. She becomes the Egyptian Princess Neferbeth.

When tragedy strikes in their neighborhood - a girl is murdered - their freedom to play outside is severely restricted, and they spend their time in confinement making costumes for when they're able to go back. The next time they are able to all sneak to Egypt together is on Halloween. They are followed there by two boys from Melanie and April's class, who in the end turn out to be good sports about all of it, and join the game.

There is eventually more freedom (as Melanie's father says, they can't be confined forever) and the game gets more elaborate. There is a funeral for Elizabeth's pet canary, and an oracle that answers questions...

There are plenty of subplots, besides Egypt. April has constant anxiety about her mother and whether she will ever want her to come back and live with her. Melanie worries about how April will fit in at school, with her grown-up Hollywood ways (she schemes to hide April's false eyelashes before the first day of school, knowing that if she wears them she'll never fit in!). They both worry about Elizabeth, who is a little younger, and do their best to make sure people know if they mess with Elizabeth, they're messing with them too! Marshall is always watching. He alone knows that their Egyptian activities are observed by the lonely and mysterious "Professor" in the shop in front of the storage yard.

And then there's a close call. April is almost the next victim of the child murderer, but the Professor sees her attack and calls for help. Marshall is able to identify the man, and turns into a neighborhood hero. The Professor becomes a hero too, and tells the children his own story, before giving them actual keys to the yard.

Initially, The Egypt Game seemed to have a lot in common with Jennifer. Two girls, one black, one white, one of whom is new in town, start an elaborate game of make-believe, which they keep secret from their parents.

But in the end, this was a much different book. For one thing, the two girls begin the game, but invite others in. For another thing, the game is always a game. Though they do extensive research into Ancient Egyptian practices, and are thrilled at the idea of magic and *almost* want their ceremonies to work, they acknowledge that they're making things up, and are also a little bit afraid of what they're dabbling in.

I first read this book in 6th grade when I was deep in my own Egyptian obsession, and loved it so much that I convinced my teacher to use it as one of our after lunch read aloud books. That said, I didn't remember anything about the murder, or April's breaking heart over feeling abandoned by her mother, or her slowly warming to her grandmother. Not to mention the wonderfully handled feeling of "you can't go home again" at the end, when the girls, despite having shiny new keys to the yard, realize that Egypt will never be the same.

I'd highly recommend it. It's good the first time through, and wears well with age.

No comments:

Post a Comment