Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 738

Snyder develops a theme of unconditional friendship in the novel, demonstrating the unique ability of children to form communities that compensate for a lack of family structure and affection. Although April tries to hide her longing for the father she never knew, her hurt at her mother's neglect, and her...

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Snyder develops a theme of unconditional friendship in the novel, demonstrating the unique ability of children to form communities that compensate for a lack of family structure and affection. Although April tries to hide her longing for the father she never knew, her hurt at her mother's neglect, and her insecurity in her new surroundings, she finds an extended family through the friendships of the Egypt group. Melanie Ross, a black eleven-year-old, accepts her friendship despite April's bragging, lying, strange manner of dress, and eccentric behavior. They soon become as close as sisters. April accepts Melanie's four-year-old brother, Marshall, as one of the gang on equal terms. The girls add a newcomer of Chinese descent, nine-year-old Elizabeth Chung, to their gang almost from the minute they meet her, and they even accept two eleven-year-old boys, Ken Kamata and Toby Alvillar into the Egypt Game. April and Toby vie for the leadership of the group, but each is able to make concessions to the other. Because the children are willing to compromise and listen to different points of view, few conflicts arise among members of the group.

The Egypt group, however, cannot completely substitute for a family, and Snyder addresses the need for children to have some type of familial stability. Dumped on her grandmother while her mother is on the road, April glamorizes her mother's activities, looks, and behavior to try to comfort herself but is angered by her mother's absence. April has had a rather difficult life up to this point, and lacks a sense of belonging. She has been in and out of dozens of schools, has never had playmates her own age, and has depended on her imagination to make life more tolerable. April's relationship with her grandmother moves from one of defiance and antagonism to one of love, acceptance, and a recognition of her own need for stability.

Another theme concerns people's willingness to think the worst about someone who is different, mysterious, and private. Not only do the adults suspect that the Professor has murdered a child in the neighborhood, but the children also fear him. April visits and talks to the Professor before becoming aware of the neighborhood attitudes. When a second child is murdered, only April speaks up for the Professor.

April's loyalty to the Professor also stems from the fact that she, Melanie, and Marshall develop the Egypt Game using odds and ends they find in the Professor's storage yard. Unlike many adults, the children value the different and the foreign. They research Egypt, invent their own hieroglyphic alphabet, and act out rituals for the good goddess Isis and the evil god Set.

The murders contrast with the children's simple fantasy game of good versus evil and put an end to the Egypt Game for awhile. The killer remains at large, but gradually things return to normal until April is attacked in the storage yard. The Professor saves April, and the killer is soon apprehended. The neighborhood adults try to make up for their behavior toward the Professor, who in turn becomes a friendly, helpful neighbor to them.

Because the land of Egypt has been a place where the children share privacy and secrecy with best friends, April and Melanie realize that the presence of adults and violence has spoiled their enchanted land. Although they know they can't go back to Egypt again, the novel ends with April saying "Melanie ... what do you know about gypsies?" The children begin a new game with enthusiasm, demonstrating their resilience and optimism.

Snyder's underlying theme addresses the nature of childhood in urban contemporary America. The Egypt Game seems to represent the creativity and hopefulness of childhood, as opposed to the unpredictably violent and suspicious world of adults. April, who has experienced emotional violence in the loss of her father and the callousness of her starstruck mother, seems to demand her right to childhood, using the Egypt Game as a way of rejecting the pain that the adult world thrusts upon her. In Egypt she creates a world where she does not have to feel abandoned or hurt. Yet as the murders and the attack on April show, children cannot be protected or isolated from the often painful world around them. Snyder's point is ultimately hopeful; she shows that April's imagination, her love of learning, and her close relationship with her grandmother and friends will enable her to survive—and to enjoy—growing up.

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