Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Roomies by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando • contains 288 pages • published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 24. December 2013 • classified as Contemporary, New Adult, Young Adult • obtained through NetGalley • read as eARC • shelve on Goodreads
Oh the liminality of the summer between high school and college! Sorry, I just had to use the term liminality outside of school. But it is an apt definition of where Elizabeth and Lauren are. A stage of in-between, of neither here nor there. It is also those in-between stages that tend to go unnoticed, so I was delighted when I read that this exactly what Zarr and Altebrando set out to tackle in their co-written book Roomies.
The countdown to college has begun.
When Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment at the beginning of summer, she shoots off an email to coordinate the basics: TV, microwave, mini-fridge. She can’t wait to escape her New Jersey beach town, and her mom, and start life over in California.
The first note to Lauren in San Francisco comes as a surprise; she had requested a single. But if Lauren’s learned anything from being the oldest of six, it’s that you can’t always get what you want, especially when what you want is privacy.
Soon the girls are emailing back and forth, sharing secrets even though they’ve never met. 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.
For most students, after admissions are confirmed, the next worry, of course is, who is going to be my roommate? For Elizabeth, who goes by EB, this is no different. When roommate allocations are out, EB sends an email to Lauren to introduce herself. She has no idea what she is in for. Lauren is less than excited finding out that has a roommate. She wanted a single room. Still, she decides to put up with EB, answers the email, and so launches into an email exchange with her.
Both the girls have stories to tell. Stories of heartaches, of family problems, of friendships and also of their uncertain futures. Neither knows what to expect, and that is what makes their stories so exciting. They speak of cheating, of being rejected, of responsibilities, of summer jobs, and also of potential boyfriends. With so much packed into those pages, another question that surfaces is how much is too much when sharing your life with a stranger? Sure, they will meet each other but until they do, that have not technically met. Can emails establish a friendship? Or is it necessary to meet in real life?
With technology cementing their relationship, I thought that Roomies truly embodied what it means for youths to live in the 21st century. The Internet is such an integral part of our lives, most of us can’t even remember what it was like before it became so ubiquitous, and some never even have experienced life without it. Roomies addresses many modern day issues that we are faced with, from “stalking” on Facebook versus “stalking” in real life, to the reliance on mobile phones to stay connected with friends. On that front, I think there is a need for more books to address issues such as these, so I’m glad to say that this is a more than worthy book to fill that void. I’m hoping that more contemporary books will deal with that reality, so I’m also really looking forward to #scandal by Sarah Ockler (which comes out next year).
Between the two of them though, I thought that EB was more of the whiny one and Lauren more the mature one. At times that dynamic did get a little tiring because it made me want to mute EB, and just continue with Lauren. Come to think of it, I think if anyone chooses to read only EB’s or only Lauren’s side of the story, it would still come off as an almost complete book. I say almost because the emails are embedded in the narratives, so the email exchanges at least integrate their stories. And while the main focus is on their email relationship left me a little disappointed because we never get to see them meet each other.
In a way, I thought Lauren’s life came off as a bit more realistic than EB’s, especially when it came to their romances. Lauren and Keyon gave me such a warm and fuzzy feeling too while presenting the mature aspects of their relationship as well. EB’s was more of a whirlwind, with a whole lot of drama. Maybe that stark difference does bring some balance into the story though, since both of them deal with overlapping problems but in different ways. It’s a good thing too because reading the ebook format made it difficult at first to differentiate the two points of views until I was well into the book and had a better semblance of their voices. I got all confused at first, wondering why the first two chapters made very little sense, until I noticed that the chapter titles of New Jersey and San Francisco were meant to indicate locations, and by extension, whether it was EB’s or Lauren’s turn.
Despite my little gripes here and there, I did come to enjoy Roomies as much as I had expected, and I heartily recommend to anyone waiting to start college, or anyone looking back on their experience. I remember very well how I obsessed about finding rookie to apply with, or opting for a random one without any control who I might end up with. Back then, I applied with a friend of a friend, so even though it wasn’t all that random, we didn’t know each other, so I was faced with many of EB’s worries.