Amid luscious scenes of Egyptian culture and history, four teenagers endure mistakes, missteps, and plenty of hilarity
Told in four alternating points of view, Tyne O’Connell’s latest novel MAGIC & MAYHEM On THE NILE (USA title “True Love, The Sphinx & Other Unfathomable Riddles”) is both a fast-paced comedy-of-errors, and a heartfelt romance that proves that sometimes, the greatest complication of all is love !
Four toff teens from England and New York find themselves immersed on a school trip to the land of the sphinx and pyramids, Egypt.
All four teens will cross paths that lead to miscommunication, secrets, and a whole lot of love ensuring this will be one school trip that they will never forget.
If you thought the riddle of the Sphinx was complicated, try this one out for size:
Sam likes Olivia
Octavia likes Salah
Salah likes Rosie
and Rosie is pretending to like Sam
February, Bowers School for Boys, Manhattan
I figured there must be more to life than girls. I just wasn’t that interested in letting people know that I cared.
Most of the guys in geography class that afternoon were e-mailing, texting, or fooling around on their BlackBerrys and iPhones. After Carol wrote the word Egypt on the whiteboard, I started to check out the new lens for my Leica. I like to think of myself as a man-of-the-moment sort of guy, and I’d been waiting for this particular lens for weeks.
After unpacking, I scanned the instructions and began attaching it to my camera. It wasn’t like I was going to miss out on any great chunk of wisdom. No one actually thinks geography is a real subject any more than Carol’s a real teacher. Don’t get me wrong, we all kind of like her, but she’s totally off the wall – and at Bowers that’s saying something!
Take Professor Ali. He spent an entire term dementedly slapping the board with a whiteboard eraser and occasionally slinging it at boys he was convinced were “out to get him.” Our headmaster finally wrote a letter to parents regretfully announcing that Professor Ali was taking time off for a sabbatical. I mean, how dumb do they think people are? Even parents know that “sabbatical” is code for looney bin.
I looked up at Carol again in case she was writing something relevant, but no, she was drawing a map, oblivious to the fact that no one, not even Yo, the Official School Geek, was paying any attention. Yo was wearing his virtual reality visor and moving his limbs robotically. Yo is one of my closest friends. His real name is Thomas, but when he first came to Bowers, he had been playing up his African American roots and said “yo” all the time. So we all started calling him “Yo” so we could say, “yo, Yo!” It had seemed funny at the time.
Carol turned around and asked whimsically, “Don’t you love the romance of the desert, boys?”
We all laughed. Seriously, we thought she was joking. She wasn’t.
She scowled. “You are the most immature and emotionally lost class in this school.”
We were a patient bunch, but even for us it was too much to be classified as immature and emotionally lost by Carol: a middle-aged woman in a tie-dyed hippy skirt, who regularly lost control. On her first day she “invited” us to call her by her first name and to think of her as a unique and mystical being “much like yourselves.”
Calling teachers by their first names was against school policy. I suspect thinking of them as unique and mystical beings was too, but what can you do? The first time one of us didn’t call her Carol, she went postal.
Another one of my closest friends, Astin, says school is like a war and we’re foot soldiers. That’s why he has a crew cut. He says the only way to deal is to keep your head down, get good grades, and count yourself lucky if you get out alive. If Astin gets out, I have a suspicion that he’ll become a James Bond character. Even though he’s not British, he’s got that whole suave thing going on. Also, he can raise one eyebrow, which the girls love.
Speaking of the fairer sex, I sent a text, suggesting coffee after school to this Spence girl I’d chosen as my weekly focus. Holly had asked me to get her on the invite list to my mother’s fashion show. I figured that meant she wanted to hook up. She was the usual straight-off-the-conveyer-belt fashionista I meet all the time. They’re all identical, equipped with long blond hair and perfect figures.
My very best friend, Salah, hates the conveyor-belt girls I date, but if you ask me – which he never does – he’s got an unrealistic set of standards that can lead only to disappointment. Luckily for me, Salah is considered one of the most eligible teenagers in Manhattan, and his indifference to most girls, has driven a legion of cuties into my less discerning arms. I try not to care that I maybe their second-best option.
Carol was still off in her own world, decorating her map with details of palm trees and monuments. Seriously, our parents paid good money for her to doodle on a whiteboard. Give me a break.
I threw a piece of Styrofoam from the lens packaging at Salah, who was two chairs in front; only it hit Yo on his VR visor. He turned around, removed the visor, and gave me his trademark withering look. That withering look will make him a lot of money one day when he’s working for Morgan Stanley.
“Who can tell me what continent Egypt is part of?” Carol asked.
I flicked another piece at Salah. This one hit its mark with a satisfying thwack, and a few guys, including Yo, laughed. Salah turned around, pre-armed with rubber bands on each thumb and forefinger, pistol-style, which he fired in my direction. I used my BlackBerry as an effective block, but Carol was not impressed.
“Yes, very funny,” she said with a surprising amount of venom for a unique, mystical being. “Now if you can act your age for a moment, perhaps you can tell me which countries Egypt shares a border with?”
No one said anything. Passive aggression was the only weapon we held, and we weren’t afraid to use it.
“No one? The so-called best of the best of your generation and you’ve managed to remain oblivious to one of the world’s greatest civilizations?”
Sarcasm is such a lame weapon for a teacher.
I went back to my camera until I was interrupted by the shrill cries of Carol calling my name.
I looked up from the new lens. “Yes, Carol?”
“What do you know about Egypt, Sam?”
“Egypt?” I repeated, stalling for time.
“‘Well, it’s a country. More or less triangular in shape”- I pointed to the map she’d drawn – “and there’s a sort of line that runs down the middle.”
“ A river, Sam. It’s called a river,” she snapped.
“Yeah, that’s what I said, a river running down the middle.”
Carol’s lips formed a tight little angry line. “Very clever. What else? What is Egypt famous for? Anyone?”
Great – I was off the hook. I made a few adjustments to the lens. The only thing I feel more passionately about than girls is photography, and getting a new lens is like hooking up with a new girl. Sometimes the lens stayed in my life longer than a girl, but more often than nota new lens turned into just another gadget I’d tire of in awake. But I will never fall out of love with my 1954 Leica M series. It was the first bayonet-style inter-changeable lens camera advertised as “a lifetime investment in perfect Photography.”
My dad bought me one of the original Leica posters at an auction. And the camera used to be his when he was a photographer. That was before he ran off with some French model to live in San Tropez. For the last three years my dad and I have only spoken on the phone. It’s kind of weird because I can tell when we talk that he thinks we still have the same really close bond we had when he was at home. He doesn’t seem aware that all we ever talk about is photography. For instance, he doesn’t even know I broke my arm – in an embarrassing fall from a curb on the way home from school. He also doesn’t know that my mom depends on me for emotional support she should have been getting from him. Like there was this time she broke up with some loser and I had to stay home and watch sad movies with her for three weeks. My girlfriend ended up dumping me over it. During that period I couldn’t hang out, Salah came over a lot. We ate popcorn and he dissed all the guys in the sad movies, which made my mom laugh. She’s got some pretty cool guy at the moment. I hope it lasts because when she’s in love, she never asks where I’m going or what I’m doing.
My love for my cameras is unnatural according to Salah. He might be right. I suspect my passion for my Hasselblad H2 might be verging on a mania. I couldn’t live without my Hass. It does about everything a guy could wish for in a camera – if only it could manage my relationships with girls.
I was startled out of camera heaven by Carol. “What is Egypt most famous for?” she was yelling again.
I looked around but everyone was just doing his own thing, completely not interested in her or me or what Egypt was famous for. While I adjusted my camera, I worked out that Carol probably wanted me to give her an answer like “the pyramids” or “the sphinx.” But I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction. Finally, I looked up and said, “Salah?” My face was totally deadpan – he is Egyptian after all.
The face that had disappointed half of the female population of the Upper East Side and was this month gracing the cover of some socialite magazine, turned around. “What was that, Sam?”
Carol was thrilled. “Of course, Salah. What can you tell us about your people?”
Salah didn’t bother to turn back to Carol. He just kept right on looking at me, a grin plastered across his handsome features.
I used my chin to direct Salah’s attention back to Carol. “Carol wants to know about your people, man.”
He spun around to face Carol. “My bros, you mean, Carol? My bloods?” He was good. He didn’t even sound sarcastic.
“Yes, what can you tell us about them?”
We’re a good-looking, intelligent people, Carol. Great heads for business and bodies for…”
“Oh, Salah! I would have thought that you of all people would take Egypt seriously!” Salah turned back to me, clearly baffled. “What is she talking about?”
“Egypt!” Carol snapped, stomping a Birkenstock in fury. “I’m talking about Egypt!”
Salah gestured for her to calm down. “Okay, Carol, chill. Don’t forget, you are a mystical and unique being.”
This seemed to mollify her. “Thank you, Salah”
“Kind of like us Egyptians”‘ he added.
I truly believe that Salah is one of those rare people who are entirely oblivious to the power of their quiet charm. But his oblivion didn’t change the fact that he had the world at his feet. He had no guile, no agenda. When someone wants nothing from you, it makes them very relaxing to be around. Everyone felt easy with Salah because all he ever wanted was a good time. His family was insanely wealthy even by Bowers standards, yet he’s got this whole anti-materialism thing going on, which on anyone else wouldn’t sit comfortably with such insane wealth. Like, even though his house is opulently decorated, his own room is totally simple. A desk, a Mac, and a Futon covered in pillows. His one nod to wealth was his love of the suits he has tailor-made in London every year – only he said they were better than tailor-made. They were “bespoke” – whatever that is. He teams them with no-name accessories – the cheapest sneakers, Wal-Mart shirts or tees. And yet every year, he is declared the best-dressed teenager in our school. He could easily be the sort of guy I hated if it weren’t for the fact that he’s also easier to talk to than anyone I know. Also he’s got too much on me now for us not to be friends.
I can tell Salah things that it would kill me to admit to anyone else. For example, Salah is the only one of my friends who would ever get that I don’t just want to be the next big thing in fashion photography. Spending my life taking photographs of hot models might be a dream job for lots of my friends, but I want to take the sort of photographs that make you question what’s going on in the world. I take my camera with me everywhere now because whenever I didn’t take it, I would invariably see something I needed to shoot. I have heroes that no one (apart from other photographers) have heard of. I want to be a Magnum photographer.
And then, of course, there’s all the stuff I know about Salah. Not that he tells me as much as I tell him, but beneath the cool surface’ he has a lot of dreams he doesn’t want anyone to know about.
“Hey, Carol,” Yo called out, “what country are we studying this term again?”
“Sometimes, I don’t know why I bother,” she replied, pointing to her board, with its now elaborately deco-rated map of Egypt.
Just before the bell rang, she said, “Would you come to the front of the class, Sam? I want to play a sadistic ritual game with you and humiliate you in front of your classmates.” Or something to that effect.
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed; only I could feel my text alert vibrate, so I had to check my BlackBerry first. I signaled for Carol to wait while I checked the message. It was from Holly agreeing to meet up.
Sounds cool! See you then, xxxHolly
I like to give the impression that there is nothing more to my life than the pursuit and conquest of girls. I know there’s a lot more to life than girls, but it amuses me to think that everybody else figures I haven’t worked that out yet. It gives me a cover. Salah always tells me that there’s nothing to gain by letting everyone know everything about you.
I tossed the BlackBerry in my bag and eased myself out of my chair, to join Carol by the board.
She shoved a pile of papers at me. “You really don’t deserve this trip, but pass these out.”
I glanced through the pages before heading down the aisle to pass them out. They were forms and permission slips for a school trip to Egypt.
I waved them in the air for the class to see. “Hey, Salah, we’re taking a road trip to your homeland!”
“Al-hamdu Lillah!’ Salah whooped. Apparently, that’s Egyptian for “totally awesome!”
“Both a fast-paced comedy of errors and a heartfelt romance, Tyne O’Connell’s classic novel proves that when it comes to winning someone else’s heart the first step is being true to your own…” Gillian Engberg Booklist
“A breezy, escapist, and relatively chaste romance for fans of the Gossip Girl books and other similar, popular fiction series.” Booklist
“Outrageously funny and a serious contender for the teen chick-lit throne.” THE BOOKSELLER
“The author of the Calypso Chronicles series offers a single-title romance peopled with similarly posh teens. Teens Sam, Salah, Rosie, and Octavia are among the students from two exclusive high schools (Bowers School for Boys in New York and Queen Ladies College in London) who enjoy a lavish field trip on the Nile River. With both the girls and the boys living aboard The Nefertiti, the focus on historical wonders soon gives way to romantic pairings. The tension predictably builds from misunderstandings among couples and friends, the characters veer toward caricature, and the story relies on staple chick-lit ingredients—from designer clothes to filthy rich, physically flawlessly teens. What stands out are the solid friendships and the twists of humor in the four teens’ alternating narratives. Wild, impoverished aristocrat Octavia has a few British-inflected one-liners, many leveled at teachers, that readers will enjoy, and Egyptian American Salah’s story adds some cultural complexity. A breezy, escapist, and relatively chaste romance for fans of the Gossip Girl books and other similar, popular fiction series.” Gillian Engberg Gillian Booklist
“Though they are best friends at their upscale private high school, shutter-bug Sam has always stood in the shadow of Salah, considered the most eligible teenager in Manhattan. Usually, Sam’s more than happy to take Salah’s cast-off “cuties” as sloppy seconds, but that changes when their class takes a field trip to Egypt, planned in conjunction with a swanky London girls’ school, and Sam meets the outrageous British beauty, Octavia. What Octavia wants, Octavia gets, and she wants Salah.” School Library Journal
“Beginning as a lark, an Egyptian trip turns serious when love enters the equation. Salah and Sam attend Manhattan’s Bowers School for Boys and Rosie and Octavia are enrolled at London’s Queens Ladies College. Their joint vacation down the Nile has the students excited because guys know school trips are meant to be “about hot girls in foreign countries” and girls plan to scope out guys “to pull.” The problem is the guys are interested in the wrong girls. Octavia wants Salah, but Salah is smitten with Rosie, and Sam is infatuated with Octavia. Patterned after a stage-play farce, frustration mounts as the he-said, she-said rumors are manipulated and friendships deteriorate.” Kirkus Reviews