Should You Read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin?

“Before Mazer invented himself as Mazer, he was Samson Mazer, and before he was Samson Mazer, he was Samson Masur–a change of two letters that transformed him from a nice, ostensibly Jewish boy to a Professional Builder of Worlds–and for most of his youth he was Sam, S.A.M. on the hall of fame of his grandfather’s Donkey Kong machine, but mainly Sam.”

– Opening of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

When Sam Masur runs into Sadie Green, an old friend he hasn’t spoken to in years, he feels an urge to reconnect. Sadie is busy, on her way to a class at MIT, but almost as an afterthought, she hands him a copy of a video game she’s working on and asks him to email her his thoughts. So begins the renewal of their friendship and an eventual business partnership. Sparked by Sam’s proposal and kickstarted by Sadie’s expertise in coding and game design, they begin to make things together. But all is not smooth sailing, in their personal lives or in their friendship. And it doesn’t help that the media, the public, and people in the gaming industry all seem to downplay or underestimate Sadie’s talents and accomplishments, while assuming Sam to be “the” programmer and giving him the credit. Resentments build, secrets lurk, and misunderstandings threaten everything. This is a book about video games and friendship and love, with the characters at the heart.

This book uses a rotating third person perspective, mainly switching between Sam and Sadie, the two main characters. Zevin does a great job of balancing the two, with each one having a unique set of personal struggles as well as their own view on their friendship and their work together. As a female computer programmer, I found myself more naturally empathizing with Sadie, but I always liked Sam as well, even when they were fighting. Both seemed to have their flaws while being sympathetic and likeable overall, which does wonders for the book’s enjoyability.

Of course, this did result in a certain amount of frustration at the misunderstandings that get between them at various points, especially as the conflicts between them are drawn out for extended periods of time. It did feel as though some conflicts were being drawn out for the sake of the plot, but not to such an extent that it was unbelievable that the characters would have acted in the ways they did. I never found anything particularly unbelievable, but I did find myself wishing for things like open communication fairly often. I have a feeling this is a common staple in books centering around relationships, though, so it might be a personal gripe more than anything, and a minor one at that.

It’s worth noting that the book is set in the real world, in the recent past, and as such I found it interesting to see fictional video games mixed together with those that were actually developed in or before that time. Sexism and cultural appropriation in games are discussed. Sam and Sadie take on a set of what are certainly progressive viewpoints for the time. I think that helps their likability for modern readers, but it also provides a lot of fascinating “what-if”s. What if there really had been people like them creating games like these during those times? How might it have impacted our world today? And it also provides some great sources of tension.

That’s not to say, of course, that the book ignores the problematic attitudes that existed during that time or that the main characters aren’t affected by them in believable ways. I read Sadie as having internalized a certain amount of sexism, particularly in the beginning portion of the book, while Sam seems unaware of how certain things affect her. I also read Sam as being asexual (and probably sex-neutral?), but neither he nor the narration ever uses those terms. He seemed to me to have a certain degree of uncertainty, even though he knows how he feels, who he’s attracted to, and what he does and doesn’t enjoy. I interpreted that as a lack of familiarity with these concepts, perhaps stretching to even a lack of awareness that asexuality exists and that a person can be asexual while being alloromantic (which he does seem to be to me). I personally found this to be very believable for the time period, and I think the author did a good job of handling it in a way that allows modern readers to apply our own understanding. I feel the same way about the sexism depicted. It always seemed clear to me as the reader when attitudes were problematic and harmful, even when the characters did not seem to be aware (or at least not fully aware). All in all, I think these issues were handled very skillfully.

I do think it’s worth providing a content warning for those who would benefit from one, however. There is a sexual relationship that I would classify as controlling and abusive. It wasn’t graphic or extreme, but it was enough to upset me. Be aware if you are sensitive to this type of content.

Overall, I think you’ll enjoy this book if you like character-driven stories and have an interest in reading about video game development. Having very limited experience in game design myself, I can’t say if it’s depicted realistically enough for even those heavily involved in the industry to get the same degree of enjoyment, but the end notes mention quite a bit of research, and nothing stood out to me as being unrealistic from my standpoint as a software programmer. A few creative liberties, perhaps, but nothing egregious.

Be prepared for some emotional intensity. I laughed, I got upset, and I’m quite sure I would have cried if I was the type to do so. It’s a great pick for anyone who wants to get close to these characters and watch as their lives unfold. I got so wrapped up that I read for hours at a time and couldn’t put it down once I got to the second half. I definitely recommend it if this is your type of book.

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