★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough | April 2015 | Scholastic / Levine | Hardcover $17.99
This review is based on a print ARC.
Forbidden romances. Unexpected dangers. Anthropomorphized human conditions. Throw in a little jazz music and you've got the recipe for The Game of Love and Death.
The concept is simple: Love and Death are actual characters in this book, and they're playing games with the lives of humans. The humans in this case are Henry and Flora, two young people facing impending adulthood in Seattle in the late 1930's.
Henry is an orphan who is being raised by his father's wealthy business partner; he is expected become some sort of businessman and marry a young lady of decent social standing, but all he really wants to do is play his bass in a jazz band.
Flora, also an orphan, has had to quit school in order to take care of her poor grandmother; she's the star singer at her uncle's nightclub but her real passion is flying airplanes. As if being an economically disadvantaged young woman with career goals in a male-dominated field isn't hard enough, Flora is black.
So there's your set-up for massive drama.
I mean, the drama keeps ratcheting up throughout the book. Hidden disabilities, illicit love affairs, amnesia, Prohibition, and WWII looming over the horizon... with a mix like this, the reader can't help but feel some serious tension.
One thing I wish I'd had the benefit of understanding from the beginning is that Love and Death, the characters, are protagonists of the story just as much as Henry and Flora are -- but they are not exactly heroes, nor villains. I think of them as something like the deities of ancient mythologies -- in the same way that Aphrodite and Hades were personifications of / rulers over / dealers in their respective domains of love and death as well as players in their own stories, and prone to somewhat "human" whims or proclivities... and mistakes.
Overall, I think the pacing of this book is practically perfect and its various little plot twists are delightful. I particularly enjoyed the historical setting, too. I admit that I was frustrated sometimes by the way Love and Death continued to magically interfere, but once I accepted the idea that they are not supposed to be observers but characters in the book just as much as their human pawns are (albeit far more powerful and mysterious) this method of plot progression began to make more sense.
The Game of Love and Death is also sort of hard for me to categorize -- it isn't precisely "historical fiction" because of the fantastical elements, but it isn't what I usually think of as "fantasy" or "paranormal" either, considering the lack of vampires and hobbits and such.
So, yes, I highly recommend this story! It goes on sale in the US on April 28 (though I think a paperback version is already in the wild in some parts of the world?), so there's plenty of time to preorder it or put in your purchase request at your local public library if this book seems like it would appeal to you.
ALSO, Ms. Brockenbrough is going to be at the Texas Library Association conference! I won't get to be there this year (huge bummer dude) but if you are, be sure to check out the panel she's a part of ("After Harry Potter: The Future of YA Fantasy") on Tues at 2 pm.
Publication information: Brockenbrough, Martha. The Game of Love and Death. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2015. Print.
Source: ARC provided via giveaway managed by Lisa Schroeder.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.