Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

RoomiesIt’s that time of the year that’s all the nostalgia bubbles up. My birthday was in September, followed by a quick reunion with my college friends in October for Homecoming, and a lazy (but cold) day at the beach with my best friend from high school over Thanksgiving – months of thinking how time has flown. And now, we’re only a few weeks away from a new year, which always brings both trepidation and excitement, though I’m quite glad to be getting out of 2014! My point is, Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies fit the mood of the moment.

Jersey native Elizabeth lives with her single mom in a small, smothering town and can’t wait to escape to UC Berkeley for college. When she receives her roommate assignment, she immediately emails Lauren to coordinate logistics and to begin building a best friendship. However, Lauren, the eldest child in a large San Francisco-based family, had been hoping to have a single and Elizabeth’s email came as a nasty shock. Resigned and unsure, she ultimately decides to make the best of it and cautiously responds, hoping her new roommate isn’t a serial killer. As tensions rise with their families and friends, they surprisingly find themselves turning to each other for comfort and dating advice, until their first fight leads them to doubt whether they should actually be Roomies.

Told from alternately Elizabeth’s and Lauren’s perspectives as they get to know each other through their email, this book explores the transition from childhood to adulthood in a relatable way. Like Elizabeth, I remember hoping that my new roommate was going to be my best friend – it didn’t happen, but I am still close with much of my freshman floor. Like Lauren, I was “academically-inclined” (read: nerdy) and socially awkward in high school so I worried about fitting in in college.  A few misunderstandings arose as a result of their fear of coming across weird or overly strong, a point I understood well because it’s taken me years to even slightly get over my worry of that.

However, I think this book fell flat for me because didn’t want to be besties with either, despite empathizing somewhat with their issues. From my high horse of ostensible maturity, they frequently came off as young and naive. That just means that they were portrayed as realistic teenagers, with parental problems and boy troubles and the like. Still, I appreciated how the authors handled Lauren’s connection with her supportive parents and budding interracial romance as well as Elizabeth’s feelings towards her single mom and frustrations with her high school friend group breaking apart.

The climax faltered for me because of its intense levels of teenage angst. While I could see both points of view all along, their argument was ultimately a chance for them to grow up further and learn to relate better to others, a painful process for the reader as they brood and sulk for pages. Sadly, there’s not yet a sequel because I’m more curious about how Lauren and Elizabeth’s roomie-relationship turns out because they’ll obviously have more conflict once they’re stuck in the same teeny dorm room. The book unfortunately ends just as Elizabeth turning the door to enter the room and meet Lauren in person for the first time, admittedly a smart and overall hopeful conclusion.

Nevertheless, as it is this would be a perfect read to soothe the anxieties of girls headed off to college – I say girls because the plot veers towards the chick-lit but I think it does contain a few critical lessons for guys too. But I must be old because the triviality of their issues bothered me somewhat, though it made for an amusing detour down memory lane.

3.5 Stars

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