Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keating Snyder

*Some Spoilers Below*

The Egypt Game is a perfectly fine book for older kids or young adults. It's fun, it moves along nicely, it has an amazingly multicultural cast that isn't belabored, and there are a few real scares in the book. On the other hand, reading it as an adult, it isn't a lot more. It's a very straightforward story, and most of the ending could have been predicted within the first thirty pages, as long as you also looked at the cover. That is not the end of the world. It merely means it's a good, fun book for kids instead of a classic that I can see adults returning to again and again. (Or is it just me who does that?)

The first character we are introduced to is April, who has been packed up by her glamourous mother and sent off to live with a grandmother she barely knows. So of course, most of her story is her learning that maybe home and love is more important than Hollywood and glamour. In her grandmother's apartment building, she is introduced to Melanie and Marshall. Melanie and April become fast friends, while younger brother Marshall gets pulled along to all their adventures. (And is also super-smart.)

Another new girl, a year or two younger, Elizabeth, also joins them, and they invent a game where they research ancient Egypt and make up rituals to emulate what their reading, while also playing out a plot of rulers and rebellion. Two more boys also end up joining in, the cool kids, one of whom is enthusiastic about joining ancient Egypt in California, the other of whom tolerates it.

So if you find out at the beginning that "Egypt" is in the back yard of an antiques store run by an old man that no one in the neighbourhood likes, you might also look at the cover and see that he watches the children while they're playing (although in the book, the window is caked with dirt and you wouldn't be able to see him.) Can you guess who the mysterious force who starts participating in their rituals might be? (One review compared this whole plot to To Kill A Mockingbird without the racism plotline.)

This is mixed with some genuine unease, as someone is killing children in the neighbourhood, and everyone suspects the old man. As the reader, that seems less likely. Who it is would be hard to guess, as it pretty much comes out of nowhere, but then we see who is really good and bad, and friendships are affirmed, and Egypt is reclaimed as a playspace for the children who had been banned from going there when the neighbourhood seemed dangerous.

It's not a complex storyline, and there are few extra layers. However, I think if I'd read this as a kid, I would have bombed right through it and enjoyed it. As an adult, it was a nice light break from heavier and denser books I'd been reading. I didn't love it, but it was unobjectionable. (God, that's a terrible word to use in reference to a book, but it fits.)

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