“What is a game?" Marx said. "It's tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It's the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”
If you're into gaming, I think you'd love this. If you're not into gaming (me), it's still a good book! I originally gave this 3 stars, but reconsidered when I look at all my other 3-star reviews and how much more I liked those... but somehow 2 stars is too few. Let's pretend I do 1/2 points, and say it's 2.5, I guess! There are definitely passages I skimmed or skipped because it was a lot of gaming jargon, or because it was a narrative within the narrative that took place inside a game. But apart from that, it's just a book about long term friendships.
Sam and Sadie meet in a hospital when they are quite young. Sadie is visiting her sister, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Sam is recovering from a horrible car accident which killed his mother and left his foot crushed. Sam has not spoken to anyone for months. That is, until Sadie finds him in the game room and they bond over playing vide games. They form an incredibly close bond, until something happens that leaves Sam feeling betrayed, and they don't speak again until a chance encounter while they are both in college.
Their love of gaming brings them back together, and they create a game that ends up having a great deal of success commercially. Sam's former roommate and best friend Marx joins forces with them to create their own company, and continue making games. But Sam and Sadie begin to butt heads frequently, hurting each other in ways dig into old insecurities. Marx acts as mediator, trying to mend the relationship, and support the growing team at their company. That is, until something so catastrophic happens that it shakes the foundation of these relationships, and threatens to tear everything apart.
I didn't love the subject matter or plot of this book, but I do love Zevin's writing style, and she's incredibly good at creating believable, genuine characters and relationships. Luckily, it's the relationships that are really at the center of the story!
The Sam and Sadie friendship was engaging, however I tend to get pretty fed up with narratives where the characters make assumptions about the others' motivations, but no one is actually talking about any of it. So, everyone's just walking around being offended and angry about stuff they made up in their heads. And there is a lot of that happening in this book, particularly with Sam and Sadie. So, that knocked the rating down a peg - would've been 3 stars otherwise. Their whole relationships is filled with moments where they could have communicated effectively about what was going on, but instead they made assumptions, got angry, stopped talking, and then finally forgave (or just forgot) the grievance without ever talking about it. Maddening!!
I also really wished there was more Marx, and less Sadie. The Sam-Marx friendship was really lovely and sweet and thoughtful. The Sam-Sadie one took too many disorienting turns (also I didn't care much for Sadie, so good riddance, kind of?). I was confused by the will-they-won't-they tension between Sam and Sadie that showed up in the latter half of the book. Their friendship was presented as platonic - very close and very loving, but platonic. Then all of a sudden Sam starts talking about how he's in love with her, which comes out of nowhere. And his version of "in love with her" is basically just making up the idea that she never wanted him because of his disability. It was an odd turn of events, without any foundation.
So, in general, this book was perfectly fine for a non-gamer, and probably great for a gamer.
UP NEXT: How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu