Overall: 5.3 / Characters: 7 / Atmosphere: 4 / Writing Style: 5 / Plot: 6 / Intrigue: 3 / Logic: 9 / Enjoyment: 3
Sam didn’t have the easiest or most typical childhood. Growing up as half-Korean in Koreatown, he never felt like he fit in. He wasn’t social and had trouble making connections with other people. That is until he connects with a girl at the hospital that he is recovering at. Luckily, the game room had a Nintendo and Sam and Sadie both love video games. They are both at the hospital often (Sam recovering from a car accident and Sadie supporting her sister) and become best friends who connect on their deep love of gaming.
While Sam is attending Harvard and Sadie is attending MIT, they coincidentally meet in a subway after not talking for years after a falling-out. Neither are particularly content with their potential futures after college and decide to reconnect. Again, they connect with games but this time instead of just playing games together, they go all in on creating one. They work relentlessly and, with Sadie’s coding prowess and their friend Marx’s house, they finish building their game. It is a wild success and a company is formed.
The trio goes through the ups and downs, the successes and failures that come with running a gaming company. They become blinded by fame and appearances at times while also dealing with personal challenges and shortcomings. All the while, Sam and Sadie tell their unique stories through the video games that they make together, chasing that old feeling of those days of gaming together at the hospital.
He had tangled curly black hair, a puggish nose, glasses, a cartoonishly round head. In Sadie’s art class at school, she had been taught to draw by breaking things down into basic shapes. To depict this boy, she would have needed mainly circles.
“Her parents can buy her anything she wants. Why would she want some dumb thing I drew on the back of an envelope?” Sam said.
“I suppose,” Dong Hyun said, “because her parents can buy her anything she wants.”
Marx was fortunate because he saw everything as if it were a fortuitous bounty. It was impossible to know—were persimmons his favorite fruit, or had they just now become his favorite fruit because there they were, growing in his own backyard?
Why wouldn’t you tell someone you loved them? Once you loved someone, you repeated it until they were tired of hearing it. You said it until it ceased to have meaning. Why not? Of course, you goddamn did.
Characters - 7/10
I enjoyed the long story and arc of each main character. I feel like I am part of the group because I have watched everyone’s hardships, both communal and personal. Each main character was unique in their strengths and flaws. Because the story spanned such a long time, the growth in each character was present and vivid.
Sadie went from an ambitious young woman dedicated to her work to a normal middle-aged mom who recognized that that period of her life was over. She struggled with depression and bad relationships but seemed content with her life after everything. Sam went from a private and closed-off individual to someone who outwardly cared deeply about those around him. He became more comfortable and confident with cards of life that he was dealt. While Marx was a bit of a wild child, he eventually settled down and remained thoughtful and gave so much to people around him, especially Sam.
Speaking of Marx, he is such a lovely supporting character. He, of course, has his flaws but is overwhelmingly generous and selfless. This contrasts Sadie and Sam who are usually focused on their fame, their side of the story, their game, etc.
I really liked the platonic relationship between Sam and Sadie. They love each other so deeply and it is such a unique relationship. They connected based on their shared love of gaming and while they don’t always get along, they managed to build a gaming company and release games that were meaningful to them. This love of gaming is what kept them together and maintained the unique love between them.
The secondary characters, while fairly interesting, didn’t really add much. Sam’s grandparents were a nice light of wisdom in the lives of Sam and Sadie. The rest were mostly just there for filler material.
Atmosphere - 4/10
The setting for this book was very normal; college campuses, office buildings, people’s houses, etc. Each location felt familiar and I could picture myself in them. There wasn’t much to note.
I didn’t feel like I was in the story with them. I felt like an outside observer, like I was watching the story on TV instead of being sucked into the story and being emotionally engaged.
Writing Style - 5/10
I enjoyed the tone of the writing. It was relaxing, familiar, and comfortable. I liked how the characters used actual technical language that they would use in the gaming industry without dumbing it down. Overall, the writing style was very natural, flowed nicely, and was easy to read.
There is one admittedly minor thing that I couldn’t get over. On multiple occasions, Zevin uses long lists where she basically says the same thing over and over to convey one idea without really pushing the story forward. For some reason, it pulled me right out of the book and made me not want to continue reading. If it happened one or two times, fine. I wouldn’t even be talking about it. But it came up enough to be of note.
She donated her winter coats to Goodwill, and she started wearing floppy hats and maxi dresses. She went to flea markets with Zoe, and they shopped for vintage vinyl and long necklaces and artisanal pottery. She burned incense and gave up caffeine. She grew her hair long, down to her waist, and parted it in the middle. She started doing Pilates, and she threw Dov’s handcuffs into the sea. She dated—a scruffily handsome guy in an indie rock band, a scruffily handsome actor who was mainly known for indie films, a scruffily handsome tech guy who had sold his dot-com to a bigger dot-com. She threw elaborate dinner parties and prided herself on knowing the new bands before anyone else did. She bought a used VW bug the color of the California sky. She had brunch with her family every Sunday. She woke early, slept very little, and routinely worked eighteen-hour days.
Plot - 6/10
The plot flowed very nicely. There was a clear plot and its trajectory had a clear path. It was pretty predictable, though. It was the normal story of some young ambitious people with profound skills working themselves into the ground to get their project off the ground. They get noticed and become famous so they start a business. Then they start to divide and fight because they have opposing views. It was still entertaining with some new bits thrown in that made it less monotonous.
The book resolved nicely. It felt like watching the last episode of Friends. Sam and Sadie are in their thirties and both got over Marx’s death and all of their hardships. I am glad they made up and are able to move forward with their lives, probably apart but possibly together.
The subplots were fine but I don’t think they added much to the overall story. They helped build some character narratives and gave me an understanding of the more general context of the world.
Intrigue - 3/10
This book felt like a slog. I almost didn’t finish it. Maybe I am used to more intriguing books or maybe I just didn’t get it but this felt so boring to me. Even so, I pushed through to the end. Each time I closed the book, I wasn’t really looking forward to the next time I was going to open up it back up.
Logic - 9/10
Nothing of note here. Like I said, everything felt familiar and comfortable. I appreciated that the technical jargon of software development was accurate and the technology was fitting for the times they were in.
Enjoyment - 3/10
This book was not for me. It felt very underwhelming and I didn’t really get much out of it. I like to be sucked in and want to really engage my emotions when reading a book, and this one just didn’t do that. To continue with the analogy, it was like watching Friends but without the jokes. I wouldn’t recommend this.