Friday, December 10, 2010

The Pharaoh's Secret

In retrospect, some of the most influential books I read as a teenage guy were about young women. Specifically, they were books about strong, smart, independent young women. A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murray, The Golden Compass’s Lyra, and The Westing Game’s Turtle all grabbed my attention as protagonists who took hold of their situations, while causing me to examine the unique perspective their authors allowed them to provide as female characters. Most of all, though, they were cool. They made me excited to read and follow their adventures. They faced questions that made me think about the world. And they led to me search out these qualities in friends. The brilliant and interesting women I am friends with today, I know, in a roundabout way, because of the fictional young women I met when younger. With Talibah’s adventures through Egypt and its history in The Pharaoh’s Secret, Marissa Moss adds another character to this tradition.

The Pharaoh’s Secret follows in the footsteps of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (another favorite from younger years): a young woman and her little brother on an adventure, exploring art and antiquities, stumbling upon a mystery only they can solve. Talibah and her brother Adom are visiting their parents’ homeland with their father, an professor of Egyptian history, when she finds herself repeatedly, and inexplicably, drawn to the history of Egypt’s only female sovereign, Hatshepsut. Moss takes this premise in a different direction from The Mixed-Up Files, spinning a mystery around the pharaoh that crosses into supernatural territory and provides in Talibah’s historical exploration a path also to dealing with her mother’s death and bringing her family closer together. Mysterious strangers, betrayals, run-ins with cobras, and escapes from tombs keep the plot fast-paced, without sacrificing a thorough lesson in this piece of Egyptian history.

Moss's writing, perhaps, “tells” instead of “shows” a tad too much, but the plot’s exotic locations and inventive twists keep the story engaging. And in Talibah, she gives us another insightful, brave young woman to capture the imagination and admiration of her readers, female or male.

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