Not since THE BOOK THIEF has the character of Death played such an original and affecting part in a book for young people. Flora and Henry were born a few blocks from each other, innocent of the forces that might keep a white boy and an African American girl apart; years later they meet again and their mutual love of music sparks an even more powerful connection. But what Flora and Henry don't know is that they are pawns in a game played by the eternal adversaries Love and Death, here brilliantly reimagined as two extremely sympathetic and fascinating characters. Can their hearts and their wills overcome not only their earthly circumstances, but forces that have battled throughout history? In the rainy Seattle of the 1920's, romance blooms among the jazz clubs, the mansions of the wealthy, and the shanty towns of the poor. But what is more powerful: love? Or death?
The Game of Love and DeathFeatured
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.
The romance was too dry, I didn't care for the main characters, I didn't root for them. As I always say when writing a romance the task of the author is not to show me the love but to make me feel it. If you introduce two characters who were meant to be and that love each others no matter what having only just met I just won't bother to symphatize with them because you didn't give me the means to do it.
Plus I was expecting a quirky read, I thought this was going to be a Neil Gaiman-esque story but I was fooled. Love and Death reminded me of Crowley and Aziraphale from Good Omens at first but then I realized they were plain and two-dimensional. They're too human and are not moved by any motivation at all. The author could have explained the Game better, could have narrated previous ones and not just throwing names of famous lovers every now and then just to spare herself some more work.
I found the story way too long but basically, plot-wise, nothing interesting and believable happened.