Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Published: Knopf, July 2022
My Rating: 2/5 stars
“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.”
This is not a “my feelings are somewhere in the middle”-3-star rating. This is more so an “I feel so conflicted that I don’t even know what the sensible middle-ground would be”-3-star rating.
This is going to be a long, possibly rambly and spoiler-filled review, so I will give you the short summary up front:
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow falls into this rare category of books that I would confidently recommend to some others, even though I personally really didn’t like it. That’s because those reasons for why I hated it are so specific to me and my personal allergies as a reader, that I don’t think they will apply to many others.
First and spoiler-free: the entirety of this book I felt like I was reading a John Green novel, written under a pseudonym. That’s probably a phenomenal compliment to the author, but personally for me, John Green is so far in my allergy zone that I can’t enjoy anything that even resembles his style. If you do however, I think it’s a safe bet that you’ll love this too. The book has some very strong points, especially in the first half, which I will mention later on, but undercuts itself in other aspects. Mild spoilers from hereon out, heavy spoilers underneath the spoiler-tag.
What I loved:
What drew me to this novel originally, is the idea of a story centering around a life-long platonic friendship, rather than a romantic relationship. Friendship is so underappreciated in art and our modern culture compared to romantic love, so my ace-loving self was all for bringing some good friendships into the literary spotlight.
Additionally, I really enjoyed the portrayal of the creative and artistic process of videogame design. My lifelong best friend works in the field, so I know how much of a nightmare the industry can be from a secondhand perspective. (She loves this aspect of the book, but has similar issues with some of the element I’ll mention later on, so ultimately feels conflicted just like me).
You don’t have to be a game-enthusiast to relate to this part however. Anyone who engages in any form of art will recognize elements of it: the struggles of bring the vision in your head into reality (especially when you’re just starting and, as the novel says so beautifully “your taste exceeds your abilities), the vulnerability that comes with showing your art to the world, and the massive pressure to follow up a first-time success with a sequel.
All of this is present in the first half. Unfortunately, it’s in the second half where the story takes a dramatic, or should I say melodramatic turn for the worse.
What I didn’t love:
This is where the similarities to John Greens work come in. None of these characters feel like actual people. Rather, they’re pretentious facades for the author to show-off their own intelligence and “culturedness”. They endlessly spout overly deep and philosophical thought and reference and quote the Iliad and Shakespeare in random dialogue, before throwing some clever pop-culture reference in for good measure. I’m fine with all those things being in a novel, but not in the dialogue of teens/young adults because NOBODY ACTUALLY SPEAKS LIKE THIS! This was true for Sadie in particular, who felt very “not-like-other-girls”, based on the sole character trait that she likes videogames, and is the sole woman in a man-dominated field. There are so many opportunities for her to grow throughout the rest of the story, yet she never really seems to do so.
Secondly, the way Sam's disablity was used as a "tool" in the story didn't sit well with me. It's often brought up to show how "sad and miserable his life is". It's more than just the character himself expressing having these feelings at times (which is natural); it's the author's feelings shining through that bothered me. Sam's disability is used as his "excuse" to be depressed and to feel like his life is hopeless. There's nothing wrong with writing this kind of character, but to put him as the lovable protagonist we're supposed to see ourself in isn't the healthiest portrayal of a disabled character.
Thirdly, I mentioned that I was very excited to read a novel centered around lifelong friendship rather than romantic love. Unfortunately, I just didn’t quite love this particular friendship. Multiple reviewers have mentioned annoyance with the constant conflict and bickering between the two, but my major issue lies on a deeper level and involves story-spoilers.
BEWARE: STORY-SPOILERS AHEAD
Some of Sam’s behaviour and motivations seriously soured the idea of their friendship for me. Later on in the story, it is revealed that Sadie is the one who pushed for a platonic relationship, whilst Sam initially had romantic feelings for her. He just never acted on them, fearing rejection based of his disability and ethnicity. Uncalled-out racism and ableism aside, him keeping this a secret for years puts their entire friendship on inequal footing, which bothered me a lot.
Another example of Sams behaviour bothering me, is when he swindles his way back into Sadies life via a game he designed especially for her. It sounds sweet, perhaps “romantic” even, but take into account that Sadie has just experienced a major traumatic loss and is suffering from post-natal depression. She tells Sam she wants space, and he just completely disrespects her boundaries and manipulates his way back into her life.
I personally have one lifelong friendship that lasted through periods of depression on both of our sides. The only way it did so, was that we trusted each other enough to provide the other space when they needed it. “Being there” for someone in grief, illness or depression does not always mean “being by their side”. It means being by their side when they need you to be, but also at a far distance when thát’s what they ask of you, regardless of how hard that is. Sam and Sadie aren’t shown to have this trust, despite the author telling us on multiple occasions that they do.
Finally, I didn’t enjoy what the author did to Marx. This is very personal to me, so please feel free to disregard this point completely.
His death due to gun-violence felt so out of left field. It felt like a cheap way to get the character out of the way to further Sadie’s storyline, whilst also jerking some emotions from the reader.
The idea that this happened because of the portrayal of a same-sex marriage in a videogame also felt too far fetched to me. I will 100% admit that this might be a cultural difference: I’m not American. Gay-rights and LGBTQ-acceptance is not perfect in the Netherlands, but it’s about 50 years ahead of the US, so this stuff feels so strange to me personally to read about.
You can find this book here on Goodreads. This novel was purchased with my own money, and all opinions are my own.