Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

December 29, 2013 Contemporary, Reviews 9 ★★★★

Roomies by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on December 24, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2013
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.

The summer before my freshman year in college, my roommate-to-be called me out of the blue.  I was surprised by the call, and perhaps I wasn’t feeling particularly sociable, so I kept the conversation short and business-like, primarily discussing who was going to bring what.  I didn’t give the conversation another thought, and we did not speak again until we met in our dorm room.  We became friends quickly, and she eventually told me that that initial conversation had worried her.  She’d called me hoping to chat and to get to know me, and she was concerned that I might be horribly dull and boring because of the direction I steered the conversation. Reading the opening of Roomies brought back those memories, because this is very similar to what happened to Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren, the two main characters and narrators.  They live on opposite sides of the country, and they will soon be sharing a room together at a university in California, very close to Lauren’s home in San Francisco.  The same sort of misunderstanding my roommate and I had occurs when EB’s initial friendly (and wordy) e-mail to Lauren receives a reply that is very short and focused mainly on which appliance each girl should bring.  The girls get past that initial misunderstanding, and they continue to e-mail throughout the summer.  Eventually, a real friendship forms, even before they actually have the chance to speak to each other.

But before that can happen, EB and Lauren fumble and stumble through a variety of miscommunications and false assumptions.  Lauren lives in San Francisco, so she must be chic and liberal.  She is involved with a guy named Keyon, which must mean he’s black.  Does that mean that Lauren is black, too?  Should it matter?  As for EB, she lives near the beach in New Jersey, so  that must be a sign of her family’s wealth.  EB’s father is gay, which has always been a difficult for her to discuss, but surely this won’t be anything out of the norm to the (presumably) liberal, San Fracnisco-dwelling Lauren.  Some of these misunderstandings are comical, some are uncomfortable, and some are moving, but we’ve all likely experienced something similar in our own lives.

As the end of summer nears, both girls find themselves facing some very difficult dilemmas.  Despite their respective “real-life” relationships, they begin to turn to each other even more for support, still solely via e-mail.  (Don’t worry that this book consists of a series of emails exchanges; the vast majority of the writing follows each girl’s personal story, with brief interludes for the emails.)  But an ugly confrontation occurs, and both Lauren and EB behave horribly.  My main question up until this point was whether or not the book would end before they got a chance to meet in person, but now I began to wonder if they would end up being roommates at all.

The authors did a fantastic job of portraying the growing relationship between two strangers, and watching it develop (and then possibly fall apart) was every bit as moving and heart-breaking as many romances I’ve read.  The ending could have taken a number of different paths, but the one we’re given was perfect.

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


9 Responses to “Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando”

    • Stephanie

      Thank you! I’ve read at least one other co-writing hit (These Broken) Stars) and one miss (Just Like Fate.) I hope you add Roomies to your TBR!

    • Stephanie

      I’m glad you asked this question, because I can see how my review might give the impression that Roomies is little more than a series of email exchanges, but that is NOT the case. The vast majority is prose. There is perhaps one (or less) email per chapter.

      Thanks for the comment! I’m going to edit my review to be clarify this point.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks, Trish! The openness of this ending worked for me, which is funny, because I really did not like the similar type of ending of Just One Year. Of course, that was a romance, but I think the bigger difference is that JOY lacked the ongoing relationship development that Roomies had.

  1. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies

    Great review! I really enjoyed Roomies as well, and I agree that it was really moving to see these two get to know each other and deal with a growing relationship. It felt realistic to me, and I liked how we got to see the assumptions they each made and then see how their assumptions and communications were interpreted by the other person. Brings back memories, too!
    Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies recently posted…The Monday Agenda 12/30/2013My Profile

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