By Elizabeth Wroten
YA Review: The Blazing Star by Imani Josey
On 24, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked—after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius. But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again? She wakes up in ancient Egypt—her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow. Great. Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger. As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.
I am a sucker for books with Ancient Egypt. I fell in love with Ancient Egypt in sixth grade and pursued Egyptology in my undergraduate years going to far as to spend a semester abroad in Cairo. I’ve even taken Middle Egyptian and learned to read and write hieroglyphics. I’ve been to the Pyramids, to the Valley of the Kings…you get the point. Before I could get there and study Ancient Egypt, though, I read about it. And to be honest a lot of what’s out there is ridiculously inaccurate, silly, colonial, or some combination of those. And yet I still have a soft spot for all those books and when I come across new ones I’ll still read them. Call me sentimental.
One thing I only recently realized about all these books I devoured as a kid, though, is that all the main characters are white. Either those existing in Ancient Egypt or those looking back at it (or even traveling back to it), which of course would not be the case at all. Call that prewoke reading if you will.
I think I found The Blazing Star through following the author on Twitter and however I found it, I am so glad I did. The book features a black girl going back in time with her twin sister and another black girl. And the people they meet are not white. They’re given appropriate skin colors and heritages. It was eye opening to contrast it with everything else I have read (and loved, as problematic as it all is). For all those kids, and girls in particular, who are not white and have fallen in love with Ancient Egypt they deserve to see that they are more closely linked with Ancient Egypt than people that look like me are. This is a book for them.
I appreciated that Josey appears to have done her research. The clothes, activities, and places are much more reflective of what Ancient Egypt would have looked and felt like than a lot of other books out there. The story follows the Ancient Egyptian calendar. They speak another language. Even the weather gets a mention. Sure, it ends up diverging from the reality of what Ancient Egypt would have been for the sake of a plot, but in the context of the book that’s okay. She kept what she could and embellished it in a fun and suspenseful way.
This one is definitely worth having on your shelves, especially if you have Egypt fanatics. While I would call it YA because it features some very light romance and because the girls are 16 years old, there’s nothing in it that would make it inappropriate for younger audiences (seven and eight grade). The reading level and length might deter some kids, but don’t rule it out simply because you serve a middle school population.
One complaint about the cover. Two actually. First are the Pyramids silhouetted in Portia’s head. Everyone thinks of those when they think of Egyptian history, but by the time most Egyptian history people know about (Ramses, Tut, etc.) and by the time this book takes place, they were already very, very old. Yes, they’re iconically Egyptian, but it’s not historically accurate. I know, I know. Nit-picky. Also the menes forming around Portia’s head was not a headdress worn by just anyone. It’s something worn by male pharaohs. Again, nit-picky. Otherwise, this cover is going to suck in readers. It’s lovely and screams Egyptian adventure.
Be sure to purchase The Blazing Star and keep your eye out for sequels. I know I will be.