This game is beautiful.

To be honest I thought the ending was going to be much darker, as the discoveries grew sadder as Lonnie’s departure date neared. Sam kept repeating how she couldn’t live without Lonnie. I’m glad I was wrong. What I found instead gave me a sense of joy and hope.

Growing up is hard. Bearing the weight of the world’s and your parents’ expectations is a seemingly impossible challenge. Seeing Sam’s life through her journal entries, her fear of discovery, her devotion to Lonnie, reading her defiant notes to her parents, I felt a sense of kinship in the way she doubted herself.

The closeness of the sisters, even in Sam’s absense, is clear. “I used to tell you everything, and even if I can’t do it in person, I’ll tell it to this journal, just like I was talking to you.” I wonder how much Katie was aware of before these journal entries. I thought the “Gosh, Dad” followed by the “Gosh, Sam” when discovering the Gentleman magazines seemed to indicate this was all a surprise to her.

The slow revelation of the evolution of Sam and Lonnie’s friendship was done well. None of it felt rushed. I wonder what Katie’s reaction was to Sam’s journal entries. The events started after the move to the house the previous fall, and “big sister gone for a year,” she never lived there. The only personality of Katie’s in the house was from the postcards she sent while on her trip, so we’re allowed to fill in the gaps of the response with our own thoughts.

The differences between the two sisters’ answers to the reproductive system worksheet assignments was interesting. I was bored by Katie’s, but could smell the smoke from the bombs in Sam’s. The contrast paints Kate as a by-the-numbers sort, doing what is expected, and Sam as the rebel/dreamer. It’s hard to know whether Sam was the rebelious sort, or if that influence was purely Lonnie, but I suspect the latter. The creativity was all Sam, but rebelliousness may have come later.

(And, oh man, the mix tapes! In my childhood, I was not aware of grunge music at all. I was born a bit too late and was a bit too isolated, but since I discovered it, I’ve always identified with this era. I read Kurt Kobain’s biography and journals in college, and always felt that sense of wistful regret at having not had more musical influences in my early life. I dream now of having the courage and skill to be part of a band.)

The fractures in the marriage of the parents are evident, and while I get the impression that there’s plenty of love between the parents and their daughters, I also sense distance and struggle, and that Sam fears the potential backlash of coming out to her parents.

The father seems mostly distracted. He has had a rocky writing career: his first novel failed, and the leap of faith his publisher took with a second novel did even worse. He appears to have taken freelance work reviewing various electronics and music for magazines. He’s stashed liquor bottles in various places, written self-motivating notes and left half-finished reviews, and even stashed a manuscript for a third novel in the bottom of the filing cabinet. He may lack direction or be stifled with unrealized hopes of becoming a successful writer.

The mother seems career-oriented (with her long commute of “1 hour 10 mins!?” as noted on the map, and responsibilities with the nature reserve), but simultaneously aware of the need to work on her relationships (and general struggling thereof), based on the contents of her personal calendar (the first entry has couples’ bowling un-lined, but crossed off subsequent weeks, and finally absent on the last, and ballroom dancing crossed off all four weeks).

Both seem to want to be good parents and partners and are aware that they are struggling (or at least one of them is aware). This is evidenced by the parent-help book on teens in the library and The Couples’ Counseling Retreat brochure in the greenhouse filing cabinet. (The note on the garage wall from Dad claiming the trip was a celebration of their wedding anniversary is either an attempt to hide the strain or a sign of obliviousness).

At the end, I found myself wishing there were more to discover. It left me with a sense of hope, nostalgia, and slight regret; feelings that I associate with novels and games that have really resonated with me. (And slight frustration: for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get the basketball from the garage to trigger the easter egg cat entry!)

Thank you, Fullbright.