Brief synopsis: April Hall doesn’t make new friends easily, until she moves in with her grandmother and meets Melanie Ross. She soon learns that Melanie and her four-year-old brother Marshall both share her fascination with Egypt. Together their wild imaginations lead to the creation of a role playing game in an abandoned storage yard behind an old antique shop. The children spend afternoons as pharaohs, servants, and priestesses. They invent their own ceremonies, erect statues of Nefertiti and Thoth, and even design a secret hieroglyphic language. But Egypt’s spell is soon broken: certain events—including the murder of a little girl in their neighborhood—reveal that the children may be being watched…
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: This has become one of my favorite children’s books. It has everything I love (even as an adult!): fantasy, intrigue, a murder mystery, and a healthy dose of life lessons tucked in here and there. While at times I knew exactly where the story was going, there are scenes and dialogues that totally threw me off, and I like that sort of unpredictability. The writing itself is simple, yet not patronizing; and it’s well-paced, with action and downtime balanced appropriately. Each character’s distinct voice and personality really come through, which always helps me become a part of the story. Would definitely read it again.
Continue reading for a more in-depth review (note: spoilers below).
Long story long: Like April and Melanie, as a child I was mesmerized by Egypt and everything Egyptian. A friend and I began writing a murder mystery story set in the Sahara when we were in middle school…we were that into it! We would also do a lot of explorer role playing, so of course I was intrigued by a book that sounded like something I would have been 200% on board with were I April and Melanie’s age.
The book did not disappoint. Of the many things I enjoyed, I’m going to mention two in particular: emphasis on cultural representation and the inclusion of mature/”adult” themes.
- Of the four main characters April is White, Melanie and Marshall are Black, and Elizabeth is Asian (her last name is Chung, but the author doesn’t provide any other details). Later on they’re joined by Ken who is a Japanese-American, and Toby whose paternal family are Romanian gypsies (you actually learn that in the sequel The Gypsy Game). Not only that, but the children do a lot of research for the Egypt Game. April, Melanie, and Elizabeth spend weeks in the library, making sure they have the right facts before playing it out. Cultural representation is always nice to see, especially when children are the primary audience.
- A legit murder (not your Scooby Doo kind of thing) was not something I was expecting, and at first I wasn’t sure it was an appropriate topic for a children’s book. Sadly violence is a reality for a lot of kids, and I think it’s better to help them make sense of the crazy world we live in rather than completely shield them from it. Snyder does this wonderfully. She captures their confusion and fear, and shows how children understand a great deal more than we may think. A few days after the news of the murder is out April asks Melanie what somebody could ever gain from murdering a child. Melanie responds with something her mother once told her: “They do it because they’re sick…It’s a sickness of the mind” (72). Like cultural representation, it helps to introduce topics of violence and mental health to children in a way they can begin to understand its larger significance .
Have you read The Egypt Game or anything like it? Comment below with your thoughts!