Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Title: Roomies
Authors: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Release Date: December 2013 from Little, Brown
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Gift
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary from Goodreads: It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.


Roomies is the story I wish I'd read before college. It addresses the assumptions people have about others, about college, and about romantic relationships that I certainly had before my freshman year. Had I been able to read this before starting college, I think I would have learned a lot. It would have made me think about the assumptions people hold about others, and the ways our different lives make us who we are. I feel like I've grown enough as a college student that the ideas in Roomies weren't revolutionary for me, but I still enjoyed it immensely.

Roomies is the story of EB and Lauren, two girls who are are assigned to each other as roommates, but who have never met. The book follows their lives the summer before their freshman year at Berkley, and the narrative is connected by their email correspondence. EB and Lauren aren't very similar: they live on opposite sides of the US, Lauren has four siblings and EB is an only child, Lauren has one best friend and EB has a group of friends. The chief similarity between them is the fact that they both enter their roommate relationship with assumptions about the other girl and what her life is like.

Roomies has a dual narrative structure, a personal favorite of mine. Zarr and Altebrando gave EB and Lauren such different tones in their narratives that I was never confused about whose point-of-view I was reading from. The emails the girls send back and forth are the only real connection between the events that occur in each girl's life, and I really enjoyed comparing the emails to the actual events. The emails change as the relationship between the main characters develops, giving the reader a way to see how each girl could be perceived by the other.

My favorite part of Roomies was the transformation I saw in both EB and Lauren. It was exciting to see them grow into friends and realized that they had a lot to learn about each other. I feel that often people make a lot of assumptions about others, and that was certainly true for EB and Lauren at the beginning of the book. By the end, however, they both had grown to realize that their assumptions aren't always correct. I also saw them become more confident in all aspects of their lives, which is an important part of transitioning from high school to college.

I also enjoyed the way Roomies included romance and sex. EB has to deal with her changing feelings for her long-time boyfriend, and Lauren has to recognize that she might actually have feelings for one of her co-workers. The romance in this book is so good. There are so many sweet moments, and so many awkward moments, and it's all just so easy to relate to. I really appreciated that sex was also something addressed, but it focused on emotional readiness instead of explicit scenes.

There aren't enough books like Roomies out there. It addresses the anxiety of entering college without wrapping everything up in a neat little bow at the end. EB and Lauren's email relationship is very realistic, and could be taken from the lives of real girls. Much like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies has the feel of a YA novel, but the emphasis on college will be appealing to an older age group as well. 

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