Friendship and Heartbreak in Gabrielle Zevin’s Newest Novel

In the world of video games, I’m just a spectator. An enthusiastic spectator who appreciates all that goes into their creation and the happiness that they bring to fans but I live on the furthest periphery of video game culture. This did not prevent me from being ensnared by Gabrielle Zevin’s latest book, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which features friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green, who begin their friendship by playing Super Mario Bros. in a children’s hospital and eventually start a gaming company which skyrockets them to fame. The incredible detail that she put into the novel about game development and the business they build together made me enjoy the story even more. It was like discovering another fascinating world. I could not stop talking about the book and three months after I finished it the characters are still knocking around in my head. 

After a secret breaks up their childhood friendship Sam and Sadie reunite on a subway platform when Sam shouts, “Sadie Miranda Green, you have died from dysentery,” a line from a game they had spent hours playing together. Sadie is studying computer science at MIT and Sam is taking mathematics at Harvard but it isn’t long before they begin to collaborate on a game together.  Their game, Ichigo, is a mix of Sadie’s wish for something that is beautiful and meaningful and Sam’s insistence that it be entertaining. It takes them thousands of hours, they have to call in favours and borrow money, but they manage to create something amazing in a tiny apartment Sam shares with his roommate Marx Watanabe. Their friendship is a helpful shorthand for them and a hindrance during the game’s development but their frequent battles are balanced by the good nature of Marx (a wealthy and charismatic theatre student). They couldn’t possibly have been prepared for the incredible response to Ichigo and the stress of this success becomes yet another pressure on their decades-long friendship. 

Worldwide acclaim hits them before they have even graduated from college and they form a company called Unfair Games with Marx as their producing partner. There is pressure from the gaming community to create a sequel to Ichigo, to consider creating a game that is similar, and to build quickly on their success. Sam and Sadie are in demand at gaming conventions with one of them becoming a bigger star from their first appearance. Competition, resentment, and jealousy take the place of creativity and brilliance. This begins to leak into their personal lives and impact their friendship further such as when Sam expresses his disappointment with Sadie’s choice of romantic partner or when Sadie feels Sam isn’t being careful with his health. They argue about the direction they should go with projects with their long-held biases holding fast. Sadie wants a game that is meaningful and Sam argues that their fans just want to escape, a reflection of something he values as a person who experiences pain due to his childhood injury. Saying a relationship in a novel is like a roller coaster is a cliché but in the case of Sadie and Sam it’s accurate and the author has balanced their happiness with moments that are heartbreaking to read. It’s a gorgeous story but takes a lot out of the reader.   

In interviews Zevin has said that her novel is not a romance but is all about love. There are so many moments in the friendship between Sam and Sadie – with Marx often coming to their rescue – that it seems like their bond might be finally broken and you feel each one as you read along.  Marx reminds them of how much he loves them both, how much they love each other, how important it is to value their different approaches to life and business and to be patient.  We see Sam and Sadie through first loves and heartbreaks, loss of parents, marriages and the arrival of children.  It’s a novel that spans thirty years and goes from Boston to Los Angeles with a beginning in a tiny college apartment and an ending with a successful business where they blend technology and art. Whether Zevin is writing a paragraph about Sam’s struggle with his chronic pain, Sadie’s facility at developing photorealistic light and shadows in a game, or Marx captivating audiences on a Harvard stage in it all rings true in perfectly absorbing language.  Their loves and friendship become as real as one you would see happening in front of you at work or at home so buckle in before you begin to read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.  Once you start reading this one it is so very hard to stop. 

Bonus – if you are looking for something to distract you after you finish this incredible book, Gabrielle Zevin’s publisher, Knopf, created a 1980s style game to celebrate the publication of her novel.  It’s based on one that Sadie creates in the novel, called “Emily Blaster”.  The character of Sadie Green is really going to knock your socks off! 

Photo credit: