Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review: "The Game of Love and Death" by Martha Brockenbrough

Love and Death are old friends and nemeses, locked in an eternal battle. One night in 1920, the two decide to play another round of their game. Each picks a young baby as their player. Love chooses Henry; Death chooses Flora. If when the two grow to adulthood they choose each other at the cost of everything else, Love wins; if they do not before a certain amount of time elapses, Death wins, and she can claim Flora's life.

Henry and Flora couldn't be more different. Henry, a young white boy, is raised by the wealthy family of his best friend. He is smart, musically talented, and thirsting for something he can't name. Until he meets Flora, an African American girl raised by her grandmother. She dropped out of school to help run the jazz club her parents once owned, but she dreams of being a pilot like Amelia Earhart.

"He was...forever looking for the one who'd make him feel as if he'd met his other half. He'd yearned for it his entire life, not that he could talk to anyone about it. And this girl ... there was this ... quality about her, something so alive."

Henry becomes obsessed with Flora, more so when he hears her sing. And although she feels a certain inexplicable pull each time she sees Henry, Flora doesn't want to sacrifice her dreams of flight for anyone or anything. But more than that, she knows how an interracial romance in 1937 Seattle could rock both of their worlds and the society around them, although Henry is willing to risk everything—the possibility of an education, the love of his surrogate family, a future—just to be with Flora.

As the couple drifts toward and away from each other, Love and Death manipulate the situation as much as possible to get their desired outcome. In the meantime, the world around them is battling poverty, racism, and corruption, as those they care about fight their own battles as well. Who will win in the end, Love or Death? Will this be a love story for the ages, or one destroyed by the same old hurts and slights?

I thought this was a tremendously fascinating concept for a book. Henry and Flora's characters really fascinated me, how one gave into love so readily and one fought it every step of the way as a protective measure. Some of the supporting characters, particularly Henry's best friend Ethan, were really well-drawn, too.

My challenge with this book is that for the most part the same thing happens, over and over again. While I, well, loved Love's character, Death really frustrated me. (Truer words have never been spoken, you know?) She was just too manipulative and honestly reminded me of a villain from a crime novel, who always seemed to be hiding just around the corner from where something good happened, or always seemed to be one step ahead, and I found that really frustrating. I understood the point, but it really dampened my enjoyment of the story.

Even with that, however, I was dazzled by Martha Brockenbrough's writing ability. Her use of language and imagery was mesmerizing; I really could see so much of the book as if it were on a movie screen in front of me, and that doesn't always happen when I read books. It really helped elevate the story and kept me reading. I also really liked the way she treated concepts like homosexuality in the book, especially given the time frame during which the book was set.

I'm loving the fact that several of the books I've read so far this year have started from really unique ideas. That bodes well, I think, for a fantastic year of reading!

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