Published by Author A. Levine, Scholastic on April 28, 2015
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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 Deathis a love story you will never forget.
The Game of Love and Death is perilous indeed. This is one where I shouldn’t reveal too much of how the book unfolds as it is best left to the reader to discover all of the mysteries and intricacies on their own. At its core this novel is a reflection on love, and loving, and life. On what it means to love, and what it means to love in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
“Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This is the price of life. This is the price of love. It is the only ending for every true story.”
This is the story of Flora Saudade and Henry Bishop. Two people who are kept apart by the standards of their time, but also by the very forces of Love and Death themselves. It is a heart achingly beautiful story and one that reads like a song, which is apt considering how prominent music is in the book. There is a flow, and a rhythm, and a poetry to the prose. They echo the very beauty and ugliness of life itself.
“He [Love] sent her [Death] an image of what it would look like when they locked on to each other. The light within them would burst out and rise, two columns of flame winding like the strands of matter that are the stuff of life itself. The image echoed both the creation of the universe in miniature and the elements of life on earth writ large. It was the source of everything, including Love and Death themselves.”
This is a love story. And, I suppose, it’s a bit strange because in any other book this would be “instalove.” But Flory and Henry were chosen by Love and Death themselves and so their connection was fated. You never notice, though. The prose is so fluid, so magical and sparking, that the love the characters experience seems as natural and obvious as the sky being blue. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a good slow dance scene (and there is a great one found in these pages).
“The kiss: It felt like light rising through them. It was a memory and it was a promise, an enigma and a wonder. It was music. A conversation. A flight. A true story. And it was theirs.”
The 1930’s Seattle setting is strikingly rendered, atmospheric, and alive on the pages and the character work is amazing. My heart cracked right open with empathy for all of them. We, along with Love and Death, have an omniscient view into the hearts of Flora and Henry and they are achingly adorable. It is the supreme joy of reading a story in which two just honestly good people who deserve each other have been brought together.
Both orphans who have already lost so much, it is impossible not to root for them. Pragmatic, guarded Flora (chosen as Death’s player) is a jazz singer, who left school to care for her ailing grandmother, and dreams of being a pilot. Open hearted and earnest Henry (Love’s player) breathes music and wishes to live as a jazz musician.
They have the most adorable banter made all the more sweet by the tension of their relationship, the impossibility of it. Each glance, each small touch carries a weight and a breathlessness. A heart pounding sense of euphoria. The development of the story is not so much in the plot (though there is one, don’t worry) but in what unfolds inside the characters, the reveal of their souls laid bare.
(n). a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and then lost; “the love that remains”
I would be remiss to not mention Ethan, Henry’s adoptive brother who is dealing with his own forbidden feelings. Same sex attraction has led Ethan to a lifetime of anguish and it broke my heart. There is a scene where his despair brought tears to my eyes. But acceptance of self is its own form of courageous love and it is so gorgeously and delicately captured in Ethan.
There are many types of forbidden love in this book. Obstacle after maddening and infuriating obstacle are placed in Henry and Flora’s way. But they are just the personification of the forces that really do exist. Love and Death are also fully fleshed, complex characters in their own right with their own lessons to learn and they bring a richness to the text.
“Life is far more terrifying than its opposite.”
This book is beautiful and it radiates with love. It is never preachy or obvious. Love is an every day, impossible magic and it is so tenderly crafted on these pages. I won’t indicate how things end up playing out. After all, the book is right. There is only one ending for every true story. But the difference is made in the courage and conviction of the players on the way to that ending.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.