"To record the details of how the players met, what they noticed about each other, what captured their imaginations: all of those was how Love showed his affection for humans and their strangely beautiful, optimistic hearts.
To be written into story. That was how even the lost lived on."
—The Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough
With Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death, my streak continues, and 2015 continues to be a phenomenally excellent year for YA! Let’s see if I can write this column without sobbing all over my keyboard. (Yes, it’s a crying book. YES, in a good way.)
For millennia, Love and Death have played a game. While the specific rules vary from round to round, the basic premise is the same: they each choose a player, and if Love’s goal isn’t met by an agreed-upon date, Death will take one or both of the players. They’re still squabbling about each other’s behavior during the Trojan War, and as of yet, Love has never won.
Now, it’s 1937. A new game is about to begin: this time, in Seattle. Death’s player is Flora Saudade, part-owner of a jazz club and aspiring aviatrix, and Love’s is Henry Bishop, scholarship student, baseball player, and aspiring musician. Both players were orphaned at a young age, both express themselves through music, each feels a strong connection to the other from almost the very first moment they meet—all of those factors look good for Love. But, given their differences in race and economic class, they’ll have a hard road to walk…and that’s all before Death steps in.
Flora and Henry’s story is absolutely lovely, full stop. Brockenbrough’s descriptions of their interactions, the slow journey from curiosity to appreciation to connection to love, the navigation around and through cultural stumbling blocks and expectations…Flora and Henry alone would provide more than enough heart and passion and thought for an entirely satisfying story.
But The Game of Love and Death doesn’t have two main characters, it has four—as we see Flora and Henry grow and change and evolve over the course of the game, we see Love and Death do the same. It’s a beautifully written, warm, empathetic story about isolation—isolation that comes from being different, self-imposed isolation as a method of emotional defense—and about the strength and power of emotional connection and compassion.
You’d think that a story about immortals using human beings as playthings would highlight our own insignificance in the world, in history, in the universe. But it does just the opposite: it puts the story of Flora and Henry on a par with the stories of Love and Death themselves. It makes the story of two ‘regular’ mortals into an epic; serves as a reminder that gone is not necessarily forgotten; that even when someone is eventually forgotten, that doesn’t mean that they never were.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.