{Blog Tour} Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Title: Roomies
Author: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Date of Publication: December 24, 2013

It'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.

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My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thank you to Little Brown Books for Young Readers, NetGalley and Isa of Hachette Philippines for the review copy. This in no way affected my views of the novel.

After a few pages in, I sensed that this isn't a fluffy contemporary YA novel. And it wasn't and that made me happy and oh so content. Why? Because that's what I was hoping to read. And boy did we get it. Roomies is not a novel in dual perspectives of two future college roommates. It is - duh - but it is definitely more than that. It tackles change, friendships, rocky relationships, expiry of relationships, family, absentee and/or irresponsible parents, college, future, career and yes, ethnicity or skin color or racism. THAT rocks. I never knew getting into Roomies that I'd get blasted by these issues but I am wonderfully satisfied how packed this novel is with topics to deal with, characters to know, problems to think about and solve and resolutions to come. There were lots of mini-plots within it and above all that, the star of the novel are our two main characters.

Elizabeth, commonly known and called as EB, is from a small town in New Jersey. At the start of the novel, she gets an email from her university about her roomie. She emails her and it is evident that EB is an enthusiastic girl.  The happy girl with lots of friends. Contrast that with always-tired San Franciscan Lauren, EB's roommate. Lo, as Keyon fondly calls her, has five younger siblings and is working two jobs. Being the eldest in the family, she's always busy taking care of her siblings or doing errands or working. Resulting to her lack of a social life and/or a love life. She's friends with only one girl, Zoe, who runs a blog and is practically a twin of her phone. Lo is an introvert whereas EB is an extrovert who bombards Lo with things about herself right from the get-go. But greatness comes with reversals and Lo sheds her walls and confides in EB as well as the story goes. They end up being a pillar of support for each other in this rocky time called the summer before college.

Take for example. EB meets Mark while she's working on his family's garden. EB plans on taking landscape architecture and is working this summer to learn. It's kind of complicated because it's obvious they like each other but EB technically still has a boyfriend at the time. Lo also gets to know Keyon, the owner's son of the sandwich shop she works in. They were never friends in school and she considers him out of her league with his brainiac-athlete-popular triple threat going on. But they suddenly got to know each other and cuteness ensues.

So problems on the guy front seem trivial but I don't want to spoil you but both EB and Lo's family life and friendships face obstacles and problems as well. This is where I got to know both characters deeper. EB seems like a happy girl but underneath that bubbly exterior is a girl who has so many issues and questions. Her father left her and her mother when she was young and her mother practically dates every man she sees. She feels alone, coupled that with her boyfriend pressuring her into sex and her friends leaving her out. She's going cross-country for college while her friends will be near each other and even before it all happens, she feels like they've already parted ways. I so pity EB and I can so relate to her. I'm a loud and talkative person and most people think I'm just a chubby glob of happiness but they don't know I also get sad. So when I get sad, people can't comprehend. Sigh. Anyway, back to Roomies.

But that's the thing with this novel. You love both characters. I pity EB but I also understand Lo's plight and I honestly think Lo and I have the same way of thinking and principles. So I see myself in both girls and I can't help but love them and want them to grow and realize that they're great. I love my family as well and I want to move out of the house but I constantly think if I'd actually do it because my parents will be alone. Even though I graduated college already, Roomies still got me thinking about my family, my relationships now that I'm out of college and my future.

For the record, I think Keyon and Lauren's romance was way cuter than EB and Mark's. Sure, I swooned at Mark because hey, a guy who says he'll wait is pretty much cool in my opinion but like what Sab of Sab The Book Eater said, theirs was such a perfect summer romance. Too perfect. I like Keyon and Lo's awkwardness and how Keyon, even how hot and cute and all that he is, still gets so confused with a girl like Lo. Partnered that with Keyon being black, it definitely added so much more depth into this seemingly only-a-romance aspect of the book.

I find it hard to review Roomies and I think it is evident in my babbling because it's not the kind of book that will wow you or make you cry or giddy with delight. More than anything, it will make you think or at least feel nostalgic about going away to high school and/or college. This novel will surprise you with how slice-of-life it is yet how engaging and grabbing as well. Did you know that I stayed up until 6AM just to finish this? Because I couldn't stop reading. There was no big conflict until near the end, which I don't even consider a big conflict, but like I said, the narrative was full of subplots and mini-arcs to keep the readers glued to the pages. Hence the four stars as well. I wouldn't stay up until the morning if a book isn't something.

Roomies is a low-key realistic contemporary YA novel about change and how change brings about all sorts of dilemmas and even new people and love. I highly enjoyed getting in the minds of these two distinct characters who have more in common when you truly think about it. And how a person you've never met can be exactly what you need during a time of change.

About Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of five novels for young adults, most recently The Lucy Variations, which the New York Times called “an elegant novel.” Her sixth, a collaborative novel with Tara Altebrando, came out December 2013. She’s a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. Her books have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, the Guardian, the International Reading Association, the New York Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library, and have been translated into many languages. Born in Cleveland and raised in San Francisco, she currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at

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About Tara Altebrando

In addition to my most recent novel, THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE, I’m the author of three previous books for Young Adults, including DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB, which was a Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens of 2011, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and WHAT HAPPENS HERE.

Next up is ROOMIES, a novel I cowrote with Sara Zarr (Little Brown, December) and then my middle-grade debut, THE BATTLE OF DARCY LANE (Running Press Kids, May 2014).

I live in Queens, New York, with my husband and two young daughters, Ellie and Violet.

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