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With her 9th book, 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow' author Gabrielle Zevin has 'truly' found her voice

In a tale of fame, tragedy and video games, Gabrielle Zevin has finally written the book she "knew" she wanted.
Hans Canosa/Penguin Random House

If you've taken a look at any best books lists this year, chances are you've seen the colorful cover of "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow," a thrillingly written novel from author Gabrielle Zevin that tells a story of friendship, collaboration and video games.

The novel, published in July 2022, spans more than 30 years in its characters' lives. Sam and Sadie meet in a children's hospital, then reunite as students at Harvard University years later. From there, a creative partnership is born that changes the course of their lives.

The cover of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.
The cover of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.Penguin Random House

In addition to its fully-realized characters — Sam and Sadie are just two of the dynamic figures who fill the novel's 450 pages — the novel is a story of video games. Sam and Sadie go on to create several games together (and a few apart) over the years, sending them on a tumultuous journey parallelled by the games they're developing.

"Look at the history of video games. You have, in the 70s, 'Pong,' and it's literally two lines and two dots. Then, towards the end of the book, in the 2010s, you see games like 'The Last Of Us,' which literally look like movies," Zevin, 44, said. "It was really interesting, the ways in which the visual canvas of the games themselves as an evolution that went alongside these characters."

Sam and Sadie develop a range of games in the book: There's "Ichigo," their first collaboration, an adventure quest where a genderless child finds their way home. In "Both Sides," personal experiences turn into a game with parallel storylines, and in "Master of Revels," Zevin's love of theater and video games combines into a Victorian-era mystery to be solved.

Zevin's previous books, including the "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," which was recently turned into a movie, "Young Jane Young" and Y.A. novels like "Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac" and the afterlife-set "Elsewhere" have covered a wide range of topics, but video games were a first, despite her long-time love of them.

"The first nine books I wrote, there's not a single reference to video games in them ... but my dad was a computer programmer, and so I played video games my whole life," Zevin said. "I had poured 40 years thinking (about) and playing video games, without thinking that was a particularly interesting thing about myself, or a subject."

Zevin said that part of the conversation around “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” has been people being “surprised” by the connection they have to the book’s topic.

“I think that people (are surprised) that they can connect with the story about video games as much as they have,” she said. “I’ll meet people that say they have no connection to the book ... but on some level, I think we’re all playing video games all the time. Look at something like Instagram, or any social media. These are like game-based applications. They have a reward system, a currency system based on ‘likes,’ but they’re very much games. I think even the person that thinks they have no connection with games has some connection with games.”

While video games are the language of “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” to say the story is entirely about them would be a disservice. The story is about partnership and collaboration, about romance and love, and about finding hope and growth after tragedy rocks everything. For Zevin, video games became the connective tissue of this book because of how they are about so much more than what players see.

Gabrielle Zevin.
Gabrielle Zevin.Hans Canosa

“It felt like video games ended up being this amazing bowl that contains so many subjects in them,” Zevin said. “Like the history of race, the history of class, the history of gender, the history of sexual politics and so many things ... You can find a shadow history of the past 30 years of what it is to be a human and a person in America by talking about the history of video games.”

The film rights for "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" have already been acquired by Temple Hill and Paramount Studios. At the time Zevin spoke to TODAY, she said she was hard at work on the screenplay for the future film. (She also wrote the screenplay for "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," along with several other films.)

"By the time I start working on a screenplay, it's usually years after the thing has come out as a book ... It's an opportunity to have a new set of creative challenges around an old puzzle," Zevin said. "I don't think any work is ever done, and so a fun part of all of that is getting to go back into old material and (finding) a chance to improve it.

"I think that's the message of 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow' as well: You keep going at something, over and over and over again, until you find the truth of that thing or the best version of that thing," Zevin continued. "Whether that thing is a book, or a book turning into a movie, or just yourself."

While Zevin enjoys revisiting her characters and stories in adaptations, readers shouldn't expect a sequel to any of her novels.

"When they're done, they're done. I want to leave characters in a place where I feel happy to have left them. They feel like friends I used to have or distant relations I haven't seen for a long time," the author said. "There's no honest way to go back in to those people again."

While the permanency of publishing a book is a "great thing" about writing, Zevin said it can force you to reckon with past versions of yourself.

"Publishing ... fixes a person and sets it in such a place and such a time. My first novel was published 17 years ago. It's almost as if a stranger wrote it, it feels like some ghost version of yourself out there," Zevin said.

It's a struggle one of her "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" characters faces, and one Zevin herself feels often.

"The work you do when you're young or younger feels like (it was done by) a person who doesn't feel the same way or think the same way as you do," Zevin continued. "My earlier books feel like they were written by both me and not me at the same time."

While Zevin treasures those earlier books and the selves who wrote them, she told TODAY that "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" feels like the novel where she finally "knew what (she) wanted to do and how (she) was going to do it."

"I felt like I didn't truly have mastery of my voice and the tools of being a writer until this book," Zevin said. "There are ways in which I feel that this book is the closest to me and closest to the things I wanted to do as a writer. There's a part in the book where the narrator talks about the gap between your abilities and your taste for a long time when you're an artist, and the only thing to do during that period is make things anyway."