Book Review

Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr &Tara Altebrando.

RoomiesIt’s time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. 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. Even though they’ve never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

One of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the grown up world. As a teen I desperately wanted to read books where the characters were on the same journey I was, other than the Sweet Valley University series I had to rely primarily on tv – seeing the characters from Buffy and Dawson’s Creek go to university answered lots of questions I had. When I heard about this book it sounded exactly the sort of book I’d wanted to read.

Roomies is the story of two teen girls in the summer before they start college. They are assigned as roommates and given each other’s contact details so they can get in touch before they meet face to face. The book starts with the arrival of this room assignment, and follows the girls through the summer as they email back and forth.

The book is about this exchange of emails and the gradual getting to know each other process but it’s about far more than that two. The chapters switch back and forward between Elizabeth, known as EB, and Lauren – each contains the next email in the conversation but also shows us what’s going on in their lives. Both girls come from different situations; different locations, different family structures, different dating experiences. At the same time many of their experiences are shared, they’re both trying to work out how to make this new start, how to deal with leaving behind everything they know, how to manage fledgling relationships that are soon going to be dealing with the added challenge of long distances.

Both girls’ personal situations have done a lot to shape the person they are. This reflection of the importance of family, but also reaching the stage where you start to wonder who you are outside of the context of your family unit plays out really well in this book and I think will be something that many teen readers will identify with. There’s a huge amount for the target audience to love about this book, the way it echoes the queries and worries many waiting to start university or college in particular. I found myself remembering the summer before I started university and how I felt, recognising myself in both characters.

I’ve already mentioned the fledgling relationships that play a part in this book. With these comes a fair amount of discussion of sex, and of when the time’s right for each of the girls to have sex. I’m always going to be a fan of books that discuss this, particularly when they discuss the idea that teens should wait until they personally feel ready. It’s really well done in Roomies, as is the discussion of whether the girls try and make long distance relationships work with boys they’ve only been with for a short while. I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that again I really liked the different resolutions to this – there is no right or wrong in these situations and seeing different paths given equal credit made me really happy.

I really, really liked this book. I do wish it had been around a long time ago, but regardless I’m really pleased it exists now. This is a book that should be on the shelves of school and sixth form libraries across the country.

Roomies is published by Hodder in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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