Monday, March 2, 2009

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

First published in 1967.

The first time Melanie Ross meets April Hall, she's not sure they have anything in common. But she soon discovers that they both love anything to do with ancient Egypt. When they stumble upon a deserted storage yard behind the A-Z Antiques and Curio Shop, Melanie and April decide it's the perfect spot for the Egypt Game.

Before long there are six Egyptians instead of two. After school and on weekends, they all meet to wear costum
es, hold ceremonies, and work on their secret code.

Everyone thinks it's just a game - until strange things begin happening to the players. Has the Egypt Game go
ne to far? (book back blurb)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book designed for such a young audience but I just couldn't resist it. Anything with Egypt pretty much immediately catches my eye and if I remember correctly, I saw this one on the summer reading bookshelf in Barnes and Noble (I’m constantly surprised by what’s on those shelves and I love looking through them). So I snagged it, read the back cover and I may just have peed a little. While the summary didn’t mimic my childhood exactly, it came pretty close, what with my obsession with ancient Egypt at that very age. I mean, I was reading pop-up books on how to mummify a person when I was 8. Needless to say, I bought it.

What it’s about is the main MC, April, moves in with her grandmother and befriends another girl named Melanie who just so happens to have a crazy love of Egypt just like her. At first April is a little stuck on herself because she comes from Hollywood and can’t get over the faux attitude but Melanie chips it (and her false eyelashes) away and she finally becomes a pretty normal chick. Before long four other kids join their Egypt game and it’s not long before their land of pretend starts to cross the lines of reality.

I thought this was a freakin’ cute book. I was a little disappointed, but self-imposed, because it didn’t turned out to be as fantasy-laced as I thought it was going to be. I was expecting time warps and trips back to the ancient land but everything was very much grounded in reality despite the amount of imagination used in this game.

Aside from that, the way the game chips away at the kids’ embarrassment and makes them open themselves up to just letting their imaginations run wild is all sorts of self-empowering. When April becomes the next target for the neighborhood murderer, that risk bleeds into their land of pretend and brings the group, along with a new and unexpected member, closer together. Not to mention it teaches them valuable lessons.

Now I’m not up to speed on what’s considered “normal” for middle grade reading but just from a purely personal standpoint, I thought some of the language was a little too advanced for the age range and it was a little too hand-holding-singing-Kumbaya at the end for my personal tastes. That rightly could be attributed to the fact is was written in 1967 and the market dictated different expectations then. But really, that’s besides the point.

But what I loved about this book was that the kids were interested in history instead of video games and Hollywood actors, despite it's original pub date. There's nothing in the story that dates it so while it was written in 1967, it could just as easily been written last year. It made me, personally, feel like what I was interested in when I was that age wasn’t all that weird and is so much better than being parked in front of a TV watching Spongebob. The level of dedication these kids had with this make-believe game was awe-inspiring and I hope that kids that read this book learn from this that it’s OK to go out and use your imagination instead of letting it get sucked away by modern technology.

The best part, though, was that these kids didn’t just pretend to know what they were doing in their Egypt game. They actually went to the library and did real, tangible research. They read books. They borrowed them from the library. They emulated their games as much as they could based off of fact. How could it get any better?

Despite the lack of fantastical elements (which I truly am a little disappointed but I’ll get over it), I’m very much intrigued about the next book in the series, The Gypsy Game, not to mention other books Snyder has written like The Magic Nation Thing. The woman isn’t a Newbery Honor recipient for nothing.


Steph Su said...

Hmm, this was one of those books that I've heard about too when I was younger, and I guess I missed the age that was its intended reading age group. But I still might pick it up. Thanks for the review!

Donna said...

It's definitely cute. I'd recommend a library pick-up or something equally as cheap.

runa said...

Ah, we read this amazing book back in 5th grade--it's still one of the very few assigned readings that I actually enjoyed.

Donna said...

I can barely remember 5th grade let alone what I read! I don't remember reading anything this good, though. That's for sure.

Linda Joy Singleton said...

When I read EGYPT GAME as a kid I was so inspired by the secret club and costumes that my best friend and I played our own Egypt Game and mummified a pet turtle that had died, putting the tiny wrapped perfume-covered body in the was forgotten until one day a long time later my mother found it (g).

Donna said...

I'm jealous, Linda! My friends weren't into stuff like that. In fact, I was really the only one of my friends that read.

Jana said...

Great review! Made me want to read it even more.

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