Review: The Game of Love and Death

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Title: The Game of Love and Death

Author: Martha Brockenbrough

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Publication date: April 28, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I am a sucker for historical fiction, especially historical YA. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – a pair of lovers, chosen by Love and Death, respectively, and left to play out the game.

But before I get to far – a brief summary from the author’s website:

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.

Alright, so first of all, while the protagonists are young adults, I think that people of all ages would love this book. Adults, children, everyone in between. Everyone can find an emotional connection to these characters and this story.

This book took me places that I did not expect in the slightest. First of all, the personifications of Love and Death were some of the most intriguing characterizations I’ve ever read. I expected Love to be a woman and Death to be a man – but nope, it was the other way around. Shame on me for imposing gender roles on abstract concepts. But more than that, I was surprised that they actually played fairly vital roles in the story. They entangle themselves with Henry and Fiona’s struggle in more ways than one, keeping a close eye on their living game pieces. I loved it.

Both main characters also have significant strengths and flaws. Fiona is headstrong and determined, but too dedicated to her work and her dreams of becoming a pilot to let anyone get close to her. Henry, on the other hand, has almost no goals, and no plan – ever – but his passionate heart and genuine kindness make up for that. The one thing they share is their love of music. Together, they’re a stunning pair to watch, just because their interactions are so complex. And that’s even before you add on the issues regarding their interracial relationship during the American depression.

At the beginning of the novel, you are forced to realize that there are only two ways the game can end. This makes the reading experience painful, but the journey incredibly worthwhile in the end. I can’t say enough good things about this story. The Game of Love and Death is one that I won’t forget. If you are a human being, I recommend this book to you.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: We All Looked Up

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Title: We All Looked Up

Author: Tommy Wallach

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: March 24, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

Another Friday afternoon at Barnes and Noble, checking out the new YA fiction – and my eye was drawn towards this intriguing book, We All Looked Up. Why did they all look up? Why, because of the asteroid heading right for earth. Whoa, right?

The briefest of brief summaries from Goodreads:

Before the asteroid we let ourselves be defined by labels:

The athlete, the outcast, the slacker, the overachiever.

But then we all looked up and everything changed.

They said it would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we’d been, something that would last even after the end.

Two months to really live.

Let me just say that the premise of this book was stunning. I mean, apocalyptic realistic fiction? I was so excited to see how Tommy Wallach was going to handle this. But I was extraordinarily let down, mostly because I just… didn’t care. I don’t even remember all of the names of the protagonists. But basically, the book follows four teenagers (in the summary, the ones that are described in Breakfast Club-like terms – the “athlete,” “outcast,” “slacker,” “overachiever,” etc.) as they realize that the world is most likely going to end, as the asteroid is on a 99ish percent collision course with earth.

I like how Wallach switched between perspectives, moving from one character to the next depending on who’d played a role in the previous scene, a kind of domino effect of narration. But as far as the characters themselves go, we didn’t get enough about them to move them from their stereotype. For example, the “overachiever” was a girl who really ended up breaking out of her shell and doing what she wanted to do instead of what her parents told her – but honestly? That’s a little cliche, and I didn’t get any sort of connection with her otherwise.

And halfway through the book, the plot completely lost steam. I don’t even know what was happening, and to be honest, I ended up skimming a good chunk of it because I wasn’t even sure it’d be worth finishing. And I kinda wish I hadn’t, because the ending really pissed me off. I won’t say why, but you’ll know when you get there.

The one thing I didn’t even realize about the book until writing this review is that the author, originally a musician, composed a companion album, which is jammin’ – you can listen to it here. On it’s own, I actually really dig this music. So that’s fun.

But in terms of the book itself, it was disappointing. I hoped it would be better, but alas. The strange thing is that so many YA authors I follow on twitter have been raving over it – so, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just crazy. But We All Looked Up definitely didn’t give me anything to grasp onto.

2 out of 5 stars.

Tara