The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and DeathInformation

Goodreads: The Game of Love and Death
Series: None
Source: ALA
Published: April 28, 2015

Official Summary

Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.


An intensely original book about the meaning of life, love, and death, The Game of Love and Death pits two forces of nature against each other with two teenage humans caught in the middle.  The story takes readers through a tumultuous few months as protagonists Flora and Henry attempt to discover what it means to love each other, and what it will cost in a society that disapproves of interracial dating, as–unknown to them–their time is counting down.

While I want to like The Game of Love and Death for its unabashedness in tackling tough life issues ranging from finding where to belong, dealing with prejudice, and making the most of one’s talents and for its unique take on the characters (and roles) of Love and Death, my feelings about the novel are actually mixed.  While the stakes for Flora and Henry are remarkably high, and they share a number of cute lines about what they mean to each other and what love means in general, I never got the full feeling they are actually in love.  The end of the novel deals with the issue of whether two people who were “made” to love each other for the sake of a “game” are actually in love–I suspect because the author thought readers might think of this conundrum.  However, my disbelief in their relationship actually came simply because they do not seem to know each other well.  They know things about each other and they go through a couple of tough situations together, but overall I think people who were close friends would have acted similarly.  Actually, people who are just nice people would have acted similarly.  It’s not necessarily a gallant act of adoration and commitment to offer someone a ride home or walk them home if their car tires have been slashed.

The novel also simply deals with a lot of issues.  Flora and Henry have layers of issues of their own, but add in Ethan’s romantic and ethical conundrums, Love’s frustations, Death’s questionings, and the side problems of side characters and there is just a lot going on in this book.  And while the novel might want to make sweeping statements about what love is, I don’t think it actually adequately addresses what are actually rather varied situations.  I also don’t fully understand what the final message is supposed to be or what exact decision by Flora and Henry makes the game end the way it does.  I suspect the reality is that the author is trying to say something very simple about love–that it is worth loving and the difficulties you may face in loving are what makes it worth it, so you should go ahead and love whomever you choose–but all the characters are too busy trying spout eloquently quotable lines to state the matter as transparently as that.

These issues aside, the book does have an interesting cast of characters and the messiness of the novel accurately reflects the messiness of real life and of everyone’s feelings.  The backdrop of the Great Depression, with its racism and financial difficulties, make the character’s dire circumstances stand out in stark relief.  I simply wish I felt more for the characters, that I felt as if the book really were a great love story on par with the great couples of literature and history (Romeo and Juliet, Helen and Paris) and not as if it were spending a bit too much energy trying to show its own cleverness in revealing out the game works.  I suspect a lot of readers, however, will enjoy The Game of Love and Death more than I did.  It’s enjoyable, suspenseful, creative, and sometimes wise.  My problem comes from a lack of connection with the characters and the message, but, technically speaking, the book is well-written and I think Brockenbrough has a great career waiting for her in YA.  3.5 stars


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