Based on Wanda’s excellent review, as well as my own fondness for ancient Egypt, I picked up this young adult book to see what I was missing. I found it reasonably entertaining, although I couldn’t help wishing it was fleshed out a little further.
April has been sent to live with her grandmother and she is resenting it. All of that changes when she meets the upstairs girl, Melanie, her precocious four-year-old brother, Marshall, and his adorable stuffed octopus, Security. They start out telling stories with Melanie’s elaborate paper families but it soon progresses into playacting when they discover an apparently abandoned back yard. Other people are added to their imaginative play. Imagination time becomes compromised when a real-life murder occurs in a nearby neighborhood and their parents are reluctant to allow them outside.
“Well,” April and Melanie said to each other–only just with a look, not out loud, “wasn’t that like a boy. They got things into a mess and then expected a girl to get them out of it.”
I think this would have been a perfect book for me around age nine. Themes involve friends, differences, imagination and secrets. April’s loss of her home with her mother is one of the themes that weaves through the background, adding a humanizing touch to her and showing the way these issues can be processed in the background and not always need processing out loud. Characters, particularly the three that begin the game, seem reasonably well developed. I particularly love the understated way April and Melanie end up become best friends without needing to label it as such. I also liked the way April’s grandmother, Caroline, was portrayed, an understated background role that gave April a chance to develop in her new home. One of the strengths of the book was the feeling of authenticity in their dialogue. Bonus point for having a cast that represented a variety of ethnicities and family structures.
Plotting was fine. Some may say that a murder in a children’s book is inappropriate; I disagree. I think it was handled perfectly well, and the children displayed the same self-centeredness that many children in that age group do when coping with such issues. I did find the wrap-up to be somewhat strange, however. I was intrigued by the section with the oracle, as I wasn’t sure where the story was headed, fantastical or real-world, and I’m not sure the children knew either. However, a reasonably satisfying ending.
Many young adult books feel the need to pose children and adults in opposing relationships, it was refreshing to encounter adults who allowed kids to get about the business of being kids. The girls are wrapped up in the world of imagination, although they certainly have moments in school and at home where the real world intrudes. It reminds me of all the games I and my various playmates concocted; the hours spent prepping, the obsessions with getting something ‘right,’ according to some mysterious nine-year-old definition of what ‘right’ was.
“When somebody saves your life, it makes him sort of your property, and nobody was going to make fun … with April around.”