I received Roomies from Edelweiss as a requested ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Summary + Review
I would have loved reading this book in college (or just before). Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, in alternating chapters, narrate the stories of two recently graduated high school seniors randomly selected to become roommates at UC Berkeley. Lauren Cole, easy to pick out as Zarr’s character, is a California native who, at first, is eager to get to Berkeley to gain some peace and quiet away from her five younger siblings. Elizabeth Owens, or “EB,” is also excited to leave New Jersey, the deteriorating bond with her single mom, a stale relationship with boyfriend Alex, and friendships she feels she’s outgrown. The summer before their freshman year, the girls receive notification of their upcoming living arrangements, and EB immediately emails Lauren. From there, each chapter ends with an email.
This book is filled with all the issues, worries, and predictions I remember (updated, of course) from preparing for the major life change that is GOING OFF TO COLLEGE. I loved all these little moments, told in pitch-perfect perspective through Lauren’s and EB’s voices. EB’s first email questions who will bring the mini-fridge or microwave. Lauren puzzles over the logistics of dorm room…relations. Both girls wonder if they will end up being best friends…or even getting along. Each questions who she will “be” with the clean slate that college provides. Zarr and Altebrando perfectly recapture that mix of excitement, terror, and sadness that most kids leaving for college feel.
Besides the college-related stuff, EB and Lauren have other conflicts and issues to deal with. Sparks fly between EB and Mark, a guy she meets at work. But there is just the small problem of EB already having a boyfriend…and moving across the country in mere weeks…and some family drama the authors later reveal in a nice little plot twist! Speaking of family drama, both she and Lauren have plenty. There is a serious disconnect between EB and her mom. As for her dad, he is in San Francisco, and EB has some doubts about whether or not he wants to re-establish himself in her life. Lauren’s drama involves being the built-in babysitter. At first, she can’t wait to get away from her chaotic household. As move-in day approaches, though, she worries that she will miss out on everything that goes on with her young siblings. Lauren also has a new relationship to navigate, with a boy from work named Keyon. Zarr weaves in what seem to be pretty realistic issues that an interracial relationship can create (Lauren is white and Keyon is black), without making it ABOUT RACE.
Roomies is totally hilarious at times, and Zarr’s and Altebrando’s writing styles complement one another. For a little while about halfway into the book, the story seemed to lose some focus with all the characters’ various conflicts taking the story in different directions. However, this is a fun read that I’d highly recommend, especially to those who have gone to college or those about to.
As far as the actual text and content, this is not a tough read at all. It has maybe a little more substance and complexity than a beach read. I do wonder, though, if fourteen and fifteen-year-olds would be interested in reading a book so specifically about the college experience. For teen readers getting geared up for college, and for nostalgic old ladies like me, this book has tons of appeal because it’s completely relatable.
Roomies has a few scenes and some language that may be questionable for younger teens. The f-bomb is dropped, but it’s uttered when one character purposely tries to hurt another; so it’s not used lightly. “Shit” makes frequent appearances – it’s Keyon’s favorite word, after all! 🙂 Kirkus reviews this for readers as young as 12, but I have some doubts. Sex is discussed a lot. I think the authors not only realistically portray the goings-on of seniors’ “bedroom extra-curricular activities,” but they take a mostly responsible stance on how big a decision it is to lose one’s V card. With one exception. And while I prefer realism over preachiness, maybe some twelve-year-olds are a bit young for that kind of focus on sex.
-Independent reading or student-choice book clubs
-Epistolary style. Roomies isn’t completely told through email (only one email is included per chapter), but students can examine how these contribute (or don’t, if that’s the opinion) to the story.
-There could be some lesson in collaborative writing here. Zarr and Altebrando talk a little about their experience in working together at this website: PW KidsCast
-Discussion topics: moving away from home for the first time, responsibilities of older siblings, preparing for college, racial stereotypes, gender roles (EB is going into a field most think of as being dominated by men), necessities of a healthy friendship, etc.
Book Talk possible passages: (Note: this will be updated upon the book’s publication. Because it’s an ARC, I cannot quote due to possible changes at publication.)
Roomies is three parts fun, light YA read, one part deep character introspection. A dose of this book should be required prior to any girl’s move into college dorms. It can also be taken by adults experiencing symptoms of extreme nostalgia for university life.