Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death

Fall 2015 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Martha Brockenbrough
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0545668347
Hardcover Price: $17.99

Love and Death, for centuries, have competed for souls; periodically, they bet on the lives of humans, and watch to see what sacrifices humans will make (or refuse to make) for the sake of Love. Of course, they don't just watch … sometimes they step in and manipulate the lives of their players in their attempts to win. But no matter how crafty Love is, Death always seems to win. This time, though, Love has a good feeling about his player. Henry is a dreamy, musical orphan, adopted into a wealthy friend's family after his father's suicide following the stock crash of 1929. He is fated to love Death's player, Flora, a girl who dreams of flying airplanes like Bessie Coleman and who sings jazz to pay the bills. The two are threatened by racial segregation-Seattle may not be the Deep South, but even without Jim Crow laws, few of their acquaintances are willing to accept a white boy courting an African-American girl. Slowly, Love and Death strip Henry and Flora of everything-their friends, their livelihoods, their hopes for the future, and even, in Flora's case, her remaining living family members. As Henry and Flora become aware of the Game in which they are pawns, they must decide whether they will choose Love, despite the tragedies inflicted upon them.

The setup of this novel is a bit clunky, and the details of the Game are confusingly vague; however, the ill-fated love story, once under way, is compelling, propelling the reader through increasingly painful turns of events while nurturing irrational hopes for a happy ending. One strength of the novel is that it asks readers to question why a victory for Love would constitute a happy ending; Love is frequently seen behaving like a cad, and Flora's ambition to fly solo around the world seems like a dream worth rooting for. The Game of Love and Death combines a vivid love story with an interesting historical setting and a touch of fantasy, and thus offers an irresistible trio of attractions for many teen readers.

Naomi Lesley   ©2015 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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