Book Reviews

[review] Roomies – Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

17573559Release Date: November 19, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: e-ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

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.

Tell Me More: More than anything else about college, I was scared of living in a dorm. Like most students, I had never lived in a place without my parents before, and while I loved the idea of independence, the actual logistics of it were frightening. Three of my university years were spent in dorms, with roommates, and it is those years that I brought with me when I first cracked Roomies open. I needn’t have worried that this book would disappoint me–Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando succeed in capturing all the uncertainty and hope of that first year of uni with aplomb. (Hey there, SAT word.)

What initially sold me on this novel was the co-authorship between Zarr and Altebrando. I wasn’t that enthralled by the premise or the format, but having read and loved books by both women, I had enough trust in them to give the story a chance. Their writing styles complement each other beautifully, and there is never any doubt that both Elizabeth and Lauren were given the treatment they deserved. As a reader, I gravitated towards East Coast Elizabeth most, though Lauren’s experiences were a lot closer to my own life. I too wanted a single room–instead I shared rooms, at one time sharing a single room with three other girls. I understood Lauren’s reluctance and desire for a quiet place to think, even as I hoped she would give Elizabeth a chance to get to know her.

The most interesting thing I learned from my roommates is that you can never predict how a year will go with whoever you end up with. Friendships might spark immediately, but so can irritation and hatred, and both authors did a fantastic job capturing the uncertainty that comes from standing on that precipice, not knowing what you’ll find once you jump. I didn’t expect Elizabeth and Lauren to get along right away, and I think I would have distrusted the novel if that had happened. Getting to know one’s roommates is awkward and strange and very rarely perfect. Roomies showed me the possibility of conflict between the girls, and brought it to life, even as it began to lay the ground for a reconciliation and what could be an amazing friendship.

Some readers may not enjoy the abrupt ending to the novel, but I personally thought it couldn’t have been done better. Roomies is not about Elizabeth and Lauren’s college life. It’s about that in-between, the weirdly-shaped stepping stones you find as you cross from high school to university. It’s about slipping off the rocks, and leaving things and people behind without always realizing it. The reader is not meant to see where Elizabeth and Lauren end up, only the paths that led them to this summer, and the perspectives they bring to it.

The Final Say: Roomies is a novel of possibilities and the saving grace that sometimes you can only find in the people you never expect to meet.

19093About Sara 

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009) and How to Save a Life. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband.

Follow Sara on Twitter @sarazarr | Visit Sara’s website

Photo by Peter Lutjen

Photo by Peter Lutjen

About Tara

Tara is the author of four YA novels: The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life, Kirkus Review Best Teen Books of 2012 pick Dreamland Social Club, The Pursuit of Happiness and What Happens Here. She lives in Astoria, Queens, with her husband and two young daughters.

Follow Tara on Twitter @TaraAltebrando | Visit Tara’s website

Add Roomies on Goodreads | Order Roomies from Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters

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