Authors: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: December 24th, 2013
It's always a strange feeling to see the words in your head written down on a piece of paper - typed, to be more accurate - by hands that were not your own. For me, Roomies was like a pensieve of thoughts; it's as if Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr snatched the phrases out of my mind and breathed life into them, creating two characters who are not like me in the least, but at the same time, totally are. As a high school senior, Roomies hit all the right notes and while it did have its share of flaws, I found myself hooked to the page, unable to leave behind these girls who have, slowly but surely, become my friends.
Although I'd usually leave the romance till the end, it just so happens that romance begins with the letter 'r' so...there goes that plan. Still, the romance in this novel is well-developed, particularly as there are two romances, one for each of the female protagonists. However, I felt as if these love stories started off better than they ended. I certainly didn't mind reading about them, but they weren't the highlight of the story - not in the least. A good romance is always the icing on the cake of any novel, and the blooming summer romances in Roomies are messy, complicated, and real. Moreover, they are different but feel right for each of these girls. And yet, I felt as if my involvement with this aspect of the story waned towards the end of the novel, sadly.
I feel as if order was integral to the style and format of this book. Roomies is told in a dual narration from the perspectives of Elizabeth, an only child from New Jersey, and Lauren, the eldest of six children who lives an hour away from Berkeley. Although I often struggle to become emotionally entrenched into a novel with multiple points of view, Roomies worked really well because of the inclusion of an e-mail in every chapter. As future roommates, Lauren and Elizabeth start up an online correspondence and being able to read not only their thoughts, but also their words to one another and the impact those e-mails had made the novel come alive.
As a high school senior, I feel fully qualified to say that Roomies is, in fact, a very authentic portrayal of the mind-set during this time. Although I'm not quite there yet, I was able to connect with the complexity of emotions that both Lauren and EB felt. What I appreciated most, though, was the fact that Altebrando and Zarr never tried to shove their opinions down your throat. It's almost a guarantee that when a teen meets an adult, that adult tells them that they must be so excited about college or tell them that they should know what they want to major in already. Thankfully, Altebrando and Zarr do no such thing. If anything, Lauren and EB undergo a spectrum of different emotional growth arcs; Lauren realizing that the family she is often so tired of taking care of is what she will miss the most while EB comes to terms with the fact that though she may think she is ready for change, she might not be after all. Altebrando and Zarr tackle these issues so effortlessly, though, proving that no matter what doubts we go to sleep with, in the morning, we just have to be ready for the day ahead, no matter what.
M: Mothers (and Fathers too!)
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel, for me at least, was reading the stark differences between Lauren and EB's family units. Lauren, as I've mentioned, has a large family and though it often seems as if she's another parent, her real parents are extremely supporting, constantly there for her though they can sometimes heap too much responsibility on her shoulders. On the other hand, EB hasn't heard from her gay father for nearly a decade and her mother is one of the reasons she is so eager to escape New Jersey. I really liked that both Lauren and EB lived such different lives because of the scope of issues these authors were able to flesh out. It was also a relief to see that though the relationship between Lauren and her parents wasn't bad, it wasn't ignored either. All too often, a healthy parent-child relationship is mentioned and forgotten because it doesn't pose any conflict, so it was a refreshing change to see this one explored more.
In short, Roomies is not to be missed. A frank, honest portrayal of the teen mindset during this time period is hard to find and I am thrilled Altebrando and Zarr chose to write this. Except for a few downs towards the end, specifically with the conflict between these two girls blowing a little out of proportion and one or two cheesy romantic scenes, this book delivered beautifully. (And I know my acronym spells "room" and not "roomies", but I couldn't figure out how to write this review and didn't fully think through the acronym concept until the end... Oops!)