I don't put much thought into the Printz award or other major awards for YA novels because the award-winners typically don't appeal to me, but The Game of Love and Death is the first novel to make me think, "Wow, this is some serious Printz-worthy material." Brockenbrough weaves philosophical themes of what love and death are as well as what they mean to humanity throughout the novel and emphasizes those themes with writing that is openly gorgeous at some points and subtly beautiful at others, such as when she writes, "No one likes to be laughed at, Death least of all (ARC, 81)."
As the rise of #WeNeedDiverseBooks has shown, readers want more books that show the wide range of people in the world around us, not just the same identities time after time. The Game of Love and Death is bursting to the brim with diversity thanks to plenty of black characters and some QUILTBAG (queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) characters making their way through life in the 20s before everything came crashing down. The setting is lush and female lead Flora is particularly well-written as Death's choice of player and a young woman who seems surprisingly untouched by the difficulties life brings her.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Though the presence of those QUILTBAG and POC characters is appreciated, the way they move and act in the story is problematic at times in ways that would take a while to list and give proper context to. The novel has many subplots for readers who want to get as much as possible from the book, but there are so many that few of them get the kind of development they need to be what they'd like to be. Unfortunately, that includes the relationship between Henry and Flora that Love and Death ordained when they chose the two as the players in their eternal game. Their love doesn't feel natural most of the time, but some of their moments together are admittedly sweet.
Readers who hunger for diverse historical novels, magical realism, and gorgeous writing will devour The Game of Love and Death in a day or two. Its missteps in the details may shake some readers, but the overarching ideas and the questions it asks will attract many more.