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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

The Egypt Game has short chapters with enticing titles that encourage its young audience to continue reading, especially if they are interested in ancient Egypt or become caught up in the mystery and excitement of the Egypt Game. The black-and-white illustrations by Alton Raible that accompany the text are effective....

(The entire section contains 1483 words.)

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The Egypt Game has short chapters with enticing titles that encourage its young audience to continue reading, especially if they are interested in ancient Egypt or become caught up in the mystery and excitement of the Egypt Game. The black-and-white illustrations by Alton Raible that accompany the text are effective. Most of them are of the children and depict what is occurring in the chapters.

The setting is a large university town in California with a diverse population that lives along Orchard Avenue, with the children attending the same elementary school. The neighborhood is composed of shops, small homes, and old apartment houses.

Eleven-year-old April Hall’s glamorous, show business mother sends her to live with her paternal grandmother, whom April refers to as Caroline. April, who never knew her father because he was killed in the Korean War, resents having to live with Caroline and is anxiously awaiting a letter from her mother telling her to move back home. April looks upon the move to Caroline’s apartment as temporary.

Caroline works at the university library and tells April that every noon until school starts, she is to go to the Rosses for lunch. They live in the same building, the Casa Rosada apartments, and have a four-year-old son and a daughter about April’s age, who will come to get her. Melanie Ross knocks at the door and sees April with her blond hair piled on top of her head, wearing false eyelashes and her mother’s old fur stole. After lunch, Melanie shows April her library.

As April is looking at Melanie’s books, she pulls out an old, dull-looking geography book, and paper figures fall out. Melanie and April make up stories about the figures and come to enjoy each other’s company and their imagining games. The Egypt Game begins when April finds a new book at the library about Egypt and a young pharaoh.

The mysterious Professor, the owner of an antique store, looks out a window of a storeroom at the back of his shop to see the two girls enter his property by moving a loose board in a fence. They are followed by Marshall, Melanie’s four-year-old brother who is always accompanied by Security, a stuffed toy octopus; he is struggling to get through the fence. The girls find a lean-to shack containing a cracked and chipped plaster bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, which they consider an omen. They call the shed “the Temple” and refer to the area as “Egypt.” Soon, Elizabeth Chung, a nine-year-old who moves into the Casa Rosada apartments, and Toby Alvillar and Ken Kamata, sixth-grade classmates of April and Melanie, also become players in the Egypt Game.

One night, April is taking care of Marshall when she realizes that she has left her math book in the Temple, and she and Marshall go to retrieve it. April is nervous about going out at night and moves the board the wrong way. It makes a noise, and she is attacked by a stranger who attempts to strangle her. The Professor calls for help, and Marshall identifies the attacker, who confesses to have murdered a boy and a girl from the neighborhood.

Setting

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The book is set in California in the mid-1960s on Orchard Avenue in a large university town. The area around Orchard Avenue is residential, consisting of apartment houses, modest homes, and small shops. The people of the area represent a wide variety of ethnic groups, and many of them work or study at the university.

April Hall has come to live with Caroline, her father's mother. Her father died in the Korean War when she was very young, and her mother, a singer and would-be actress, is currently on tour. Caroline lives in the Casa Rosada, a Spanish-style apartment house built in the 1920s, where the apartments are large but relatively inexpensive. Caroline works in the library at the university and has moved to the Casa Rosada so she will have room for April.

Among several small shops near the Casa Rosada, the A-Z shop sells antiques, curios, and used merchandise. This shop and its strange owner figure prominently in the novel. On her first day at the apartment April walks to the 5 & 10 store to buy fake eyelashes. On the way back, she stops at the A-Z, investigates the shop, and talks to the owner, who seems quite uninterested in April and her questions.

Most of the activity in the novel takes place in the boarded up storage yard behind the A-Z shop. When April and her friend Melanie find a movable board in the fence, they enter the storage yard and discover the land of Egypt.

Literary Qualities

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The structure of The Egypt Game reflects Snyder's thematic emphasis on the encroachment of the adult world upon childhood. The book begins with what seems to be the opening sentence of a fairy-tale, "Not long ago ..." Yet in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen, the fairy-tale opening has dark overtones and quickly becomes an introduction to a strange man who spies on the little girls playing in his yard and who has aroused the fear and distrust of his neighbors. Hence, although the novel is seemingly about children, for children, the adult world imposes its viewpoint from the beginning of the story, in keeping with Snyder's theme. The first chapter focuses exclusively on the perceptions and opinions of adults, from the Professor to the neighbors. The reader's first glimpse of childhood in the story comes from the eyes of the mysterious, unnamed Professor. Only after Snyder establishes this hovering, unnerving adult presence, does she present the child characters, beginning with April.

She didn't expect this Melanie to like her— kids hardly ever did— but she did intend to make a very definite impression.
Snyder also employs symbolism to explore her theme. By naming April after the stormy month of spring, she emphasizes April's tempestuous upbringing and forceful personality; the name also highlights April's disguised vulnerability, suggesting the beauty and new growth of springtime. Snyder symbolically situates The Egypt Game in the storage yard of a shop owned by a Professor and significantly named the A-Z shop. In the same way that young children begin their formal use of language at the basic level of the alphabet, so do April and her friends learn a new language of friendship, creativity, and survival through the game they play at the A-Z property.

Even Marshall's stuffed octopus, Security, plays an obviously symbolic role in the novel. In making Security a multi-tentacled octopus rather than a soft blanket or a cuddly teddy bear, Snyder replaces the conventional sign of childhood security with a more ominous figure, one that illustrates her notion that children in contemporary urban society cannot be completely protected from the complex world around them. Even the imaginary land of Egypt, the haven the children create for themselves, is not secure from danger, and Security can do nothing for four-year-old Marshall when he witnesses the attack on April in Egypt.

Snyder's ultimate view is realistic, not bleak, and the initially threatening Professor comes to represent true security. He watches over the children, saves April from the murderer, and encourages a new feeling of community in the neighborhood. At the end of the novel, April is not safe from all pain and fear, or ready to live happily ever after, but Snyder shows that she has the security of a home and a group of people who love her as a result of her experience with The Egypt Game. Like Marshall— who leaves Security in his room at the novel's end, showing that he can face the world by himself—April learns to accept the stability that her newfound friends supply.

Social Sensitivity

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Set in an urban university community in California, The Egypt Game features ethnically diverse characters. While neither age nor race seem to enter the children's minds, the adults maintain some prejudices about anyone who seems "different." Snyder clearly espouses the children's attitude when they turn out to be right about the innocence of the Professor. Indeed, the adults learn from the children and take measures to make amends with the Professor, whom they unjustly accuse of murder. Parents and teachers might want to reinforce with younger readers the risks of being too trusting of adults, particularly strangers, but the inclusion of the murders in the plot makes this point as well. Snyder uses the murders to bring an element of realism to her depiction of urban childhood in the 1960s and uses the violence to make a thematic point. The narrative gives no details about the murders, and the reader never meets the victims, lessening the emotional impact of the incident.

For Further Reference

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Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 28. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. Brief biographical information on Snyder.

Gunton, Sharon R., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. Excerpts of criticism.

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