Saturday, January 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

I’ve seen a couple early reviews for Roomies, co-written by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. I haven’t read a contemporary YA in a while and the idea behind this one grabbed me, so I requested it from the library. I must have been one of the first people on the list, because the book came to me already. It’s a quick paced, read-in-one-sitting kind of book and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Told in alternating chapters from two first person points of view, and partially told by email, Roomies is the interlacing story of Elizabeth and Lauren, two about-to-be college freshmen at UC Berkeley. For each of them, this is the last summer at home. They are preparing themselves for major life changes. They can’t wait. And yet. . .

Elizabeth is a Jersey girl. She is quite desperate to get as far from home as possible. Her relationship with her mother is at a very low point. Her father abandoned them when she was five. He’s gay. Her mother has never really recovered from this. Elizabeth is having a rough summer. She is drifting apart from her friends, breaking up with her boyfriend, fighting with her mother, and starting a new relationship with a perfect boy despite knowing they have only a few weeks to be together.

Lauren’s circumstances are entirely different. She lives in San Francisco. She has an intact family. Too intact. She is the oldest of six children and feels more like a third parent than a sibling. When she isn’t helping take care of the kids, she is working to set aside money for the things she’ll need for college. She has a best friend but never gets to see her. She got a summer job working with a really nice guy, but he never noticed her at school so he’s just a work friend, right?

Early in the summer, they are notified by the Berkeley housing department that they are to be roommates. Lauren is dismayed at first. Crowded all her life, she had really hoped for a single. But Elizabeth (EB)’s email to break the ice starts off a chain of communication between the two that is not only the basis for a future friendship, it IS friendship. And the support they lend each other through the very difficult summer becomes a sort of life line for both of them.

The situations are realistic. (Maybe some are a little too realistic for my old fashioned taste when reading about contemporary teens. I have contemporary teens! This is why I usually read historical fiction. So I can hide my head in the sand.) The characters are well drawn. Their problems are real and they face them with admirable maturity and/or resignation. And they are able to recognize their blessings. This is a sweet book that captures that very awkward transitional time when the future is so exciting and full of promise and the past is falling away so fast it hurts even when you think you want to escape your past.