”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.”
3.5 out of 5 stars
Two teenagers are forced to play a game they never wanted to be a part of, where they must either fall in love or succumb to their deaths.
And you thought The Hunger Games was vicious.
Is This Just a Game?: The game that the title alludes to is alternately a rather simple premise yet at the same time very vague: Love and Death choose two players, seemingly random people with just a flick of their dice. They must either choose Love (fall in love with each other), or Death (they die). From Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Helen and Paris, Death has always won. And now they have their sights set on Henry and Flora, two teens from Washington and two completely different worlds. While outwardly, the premise of the game is rather simple, the author just didn’t give a whole lot of other information to go along with it. Like, how do they choose the players? Are they chosen for Love and Death like an assignment, or is it seemingly random and at whim? Whom controls whom? There’s also implications that Love and Death are responsible for some of the seemingly major world events that happened during that time period. But if they’re implying that Love and Death are only responsible for bringing relationships together and tearing them apart, why would they get involved in anything else? It was all rather vague and made a seemingly rather simple game maddingly complicated.
Doomed Lovers: My heart ached for Henry and Flora. Henry is Love’s player and is the adopted son of a very white family. Flora, Death’s player, is an African American girl who dreams of becoming a pilot, but for now must be content with being an airline mechanic and nightclub singer. If it had been a different world, they would have ridden off into the sunset. But being that it’s 1930s America and desegregation has not yet come into affect, their relationship is all but doomed. They had so much against them, and yet I couldn’t help but root for them as a couple. Henry is the idealistic romantic to Flora’s more realistic, logical temperament. She wakes him up to his privilege and he helps her realize that maybe their love is worth fighting for, even if they might lose in the process. They’re a ship worth boarding.
The Puppeteers: Love and Death themselves were some of the most interesting characters of the book as a whole. They’re almost like a brother and sister who barely tolerate each other but care about each other in their own weird way; frenemies, so to speak. Their tense dynamic made their chapters all the more interesting to read. You could clearly tell that neither really relished the roles they were assigned to perform, and will go to any lengths to win. Death is particularly brutal in her hand of the game, though one might argue that Love wasn’t much better, though he manipulates emotions rather then actual events, like Death does. More backstory about them would’ve given greater insight to who they were and what they really are, rather then the vaguely fleshed out yet vastly interesting characters they are.
The Pawns: The book deftly explores societal problems that the 1930s was facing, particularly racism and homosexuality. Ethan is Henry’s adopted brother who also happens to be secretly in love with him. That unrequited crush quickly dissipates with the arrival of James, a charismatic young man who is a leader in a new Hooverville town that’s popped up in Seattle. He, with Love’s help, manages to show Ethan that his homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. Honestly, I would have been just as happy if this book were about Love and Death choosing Ethan and James to be their players instead of Henry and Flora. However, their romance, while present, is overshadowed by Henry and Flora, and furthermore, seems to be more of a physical relationship than an emotional one. I suppose I should probably be happy that it was included and done with as much sensitivity as it was, but man, I would have liked more scenes with them about their actual romance. It felt more like Ethan was just another pawn in the game than anything special that was happening between him and James.
Despite a very vague premises of a game, this hauntingly beautiful book gives readers a memorable couple to root for and an intense reading experience of beautiful prose that deftly explores 1930s America and sensitively portrays the racism, prejudice, and homophobia that came along with it. Because like Love and Death, there are two sides to every coin and story that there is to be told.