I’ll be honest, I really struggled with this book. I’ve had it in my classroom for years and never read it. It won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1968. I love Egypt. (My concentration in college was anthropology. I was either going to be a teacher or Indiana Jones when I grew up!) Obviously, I enjoy children’s books. It should have been an easy match, but it was hard and slow going for me, which surprised me a lot. There’s even a blurb on the back by Lemony Snicket saying how great it is, and everyone knows that I love Lemony Snicket, so I was looking forward reading this book.
The Egypt Game takes place in a college town, most likely Berkeley (another one of my favorite things), based on the author’s personal information. April has just moved to town from Hollywood to live with her grandmother temporarily. Her mother is a struggling actress who seems to always be on the brink of superstardom, according to her infrequent letters. April doesn’t really know her grandmother at all, and when she arrives at her new home, she doesn’t quite fit in. April wears her hair in a very adult up-do, insists on fake eyelashes, wears a fur wrap, and is very different from the other sixth graders. Luckily her new neighbor Melanie can see through her insecurities and befriends her. The girls like playing games using their imaginations, such as cutting out photos from magazines and making up stories to go with them. They also enjoy reading and researching information at the library and find themselves in a phase where they study all they can about Egypt.
Melanie has a younger brother, Marshall, and together they find a place to play what becomes the Egypt Game. They set up various shrines, create elaborate rituals, and even start making costumes. Two of the boys from their class even join in the game, though reluctantly at first. Their secret “Egypt” is in the storage yard of a curio shop in town, owned by an odd man known as the Professor. When a crisis occurs, the mysterious Professor becomes a suspect, and a mystery unfolds.
I enjoyed the characters in this story. The author was able to capture April’s insecurities at being new and lost and basically being abandoned by her mother. At the same time, I loved Melanie’s ability to see through that and be a great friend for April, as well as a good big sister to Marshall. The sixth grade boys are also complicated, wanting to do what’s cool and be popular, but also still wanting to play this secret imaginative game with the girls. April’s grandmother is also awesome because she is there for April, but knows how to wait patiently until April warms up to her and lets her guard down.
So, this book had a lot of things I liked, but it just felt slow and out of date. The Egypt part was secondary to the story here, but I did love that the kids were playing this inventive game together, outside, and that they were reading, reading, reading to learn more about a subject they were so passionate about. Honestly, I was hoping for some time travel, or something more like a Rick Riordan book that teaches while it entertains. It wasn’t bad, just not what I expected. I probably would have loved it as a kid, back closer to the publication date when we did spend our time running around the neighborhood and riding our bikes all over the place.
Read this book if you are a kid who has a great imagination and you like to write your own stories and make up games or secret clubs! The Egypt Game has an AR level of 6.4 and is worth 7 points.