Title: Roomies

Author(s): Tara Altebrando ♥ Sara Zarr

Expected Publication: Decemeber 24, 2013

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 288

Source: NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads: 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.

Average Rating on Goodreads (as of  11/27/2013): 3.72

  • Christina thought this title was heavier than I was expecting. It goes on her second shelf.

**SPECIAL NOTE:** An eARC of this title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.

♥ Initial Thought and Actual Rating: Actual rating of 2.5 stars because I liked both of the love interests in this novel and I can (maybe?) see how this would be beneficial to a reader who’s getting ready to venture into the world of  “after high school.” That being said, I don’t think this book was for me. Roomies is told through alternating POV’s of both female characters and includes the exchanges they make through email conversations only. Though it seemed to work in the beginning, by the end, I felt it hindered my ability to connect to them. There was also the fact that I ended up not really liking either girl all that much. Sigh, I thought I was going to get a fun read, but it was a lot heavier and loaded with more drama than I was anticipating. I can see why others would enjoy this, but the writing style and both of the heroines’ personalities were not my cup of tea.

 The Lowdown: College and the anticipation of it all summer before you pack your bags and move away- learning to grow up, the building excitement of freedom and your expanding world, and sometimes leaving everything and everyone you know and love behind- is an exciting time in any new adult’s life. Just like in real life, all that is jump-started when you receive that email telling you who your roomie(s) will be!

Elizabeth, or EB to her friends, grew up on the Jersey coast and is excited to start college all the way across the country in San Francisco. In fact, she’s counting down the days until she can get away from her strenuous ties with her mother and her fizzling friendships with her two besties and relationship with her six-month-long jerk of a boyfriend. She’s getting anxious and when Berkley contacts her with her roommate information, she jumps at the chance to make her connection to the West coast more physical. But after a breakup leads to a quick rebound, love (and being spurned by her absentee father) makes her question how ready she is to make the giant leap across the US.

On the opposite coast, and definitely opposite of EB in every way, is Lauren. With a house full of siblings under the age of five (or was it four?), including twins in that mix, Lauren has never been more eager to fly the coop and finally have solace and a space of her own. Well, that is until she finds out that her request for a single dorm is denied. Lauren fills her last summer days helping her parents- like every other day- with the small kids, working two jobs, and navigating a new relationship. But just when she felt like she was ready to leave home and make the short jump across the bay, a pressure builds in her chest and she starts to feel suffocated. Change is harder for her than she thought it would be.

Through a series of emails where the girls slowly learn about each other and and themselves, a friendship will begin to form and college hasn’t even started yet.

♥ My Thoughts: I’ll admit, from the cuteness of the cover and the simplicity of the synopsis, I thought I was going to be in for a quick and fluffy “coming of age” read about two girls entering the second stage of their lives with new romances and a budding friendship. I guess it’s my own fault for going into it with certain expectations, but I can’t help feeling disappointed with the story that I got. Not to say there weren’t some lighter moments interspersed throughout, but a good portion of it- particularly in EB’s storyline- was overflowing with unnecessary drama. Aside from that, I thought this book was predictable and pretty forgettable.

As for the main characters, as I stated earlier in my review, I didn’t really care for them… or connect to them for that matter. I thought both were selfish in their own ways, and there was a major disconnect between them in the beginning and too much drama in some of their later emails. More to the point, there was a huge disconnect between the characters and myself. I didn’t get them as people or ever feel for their situations.  Maybe this is because I went to a college near my home and I commuted; therefore, I never faced life with roomies in a dorm. But as it stands, I thought they both had a lot more growing up to do than what they experienced by the end of the novel. The best part of their narratives was the time that they spent with their love interests, Keyon and Mark.

I also felt really conflicted about how some of the situations were handled in the story. For one, EB’s dad was… *gasp* apparently gay. It always seemed to be this huge dramatic expression when EB shared it with someone and being that this is set in present day, I just didn’t understand the need to make it an issue. Maybe she hadn’t grown to terms with it, and if that’s the case, I would have liked to see her work through it since she was making it such a big deal out of it. Then there’s the case of Lauren dating a black guy. Again, it seemed to be this huge deal that- being in an interracial relationship myself- I just didn’t get. I don’t know if it’s only my personal experience, but it just seemed like the authors made the focal point of Lauren and Keyon’s relationship all about race and not about navigating the newness of it. It made me  uncomfortable when they referred to him as a “brother” and he jokingly stated, “I love me a sad white girl.” Um… Then when she met his parents, there was this little passage:

Keyon and Joe Junior were adorable kids. I’ve always thought black babies were the cutest, and I almost say that to Sue before realizing there’s no way to say it without being totally offensive or making Sue think I’m an idiot. Race. It’s so tricky, even though we’re all supposedly enlightened and color-blind. I don’t want it to be a Thing. But it kind of is a Thing, isn’t it?”
quote taken from my eARC of Roomies at 54%

The thing is, I don’t think it is “a Thing.” And again, this little rant may be a tiny bit self-indulgent, but I think the authors exaggerated the issue. It was only a thing because they made it one. I thought it could have been handled differently, both the sexual preferences of EB’s father and the interracial dating. (Which makes me sad because I was actually rooting for this book because I thought it was going to shine interracial dating in YA in a more positive light.) I can almost see why they made these “problems” an aspect of their novel, but ultimately felt rubbed wrong by both.

My last issue with the book is how it ended. All of these exchanges and the two girls getting to know each other and we never even get to see them actually meet. Seriously, not even one face-to-face conversation or an epilogue of them living up their college days as besties. Rather, it was abrupt, ending immediately as soon as Lauren opened the door for Elizabeth to welcome her to college life.

After all that, I would like to say that I liked Keyon’s family and that he could go to his father for advice. I also liked Lauren’s family, how present they were even if it was chaotic, and how they took an active role in their kids’ lives and promoted togetherness. They never passed up the opportunity to tell her (and the other kids) how much she was loved, as expressed in this one passage when Lauren’s dad shares a quiet moment with her:

“Everything was new with you, for better or worse.” He forces me to lean back a little so he can look into my eyes. His face is so sweet, even with the saggy smile lines and receding hairline. “We love all you kids–”

“I know.” My parents are good at telling us they love us. That’s never in doubt.

“Let me finish. We love all you kids. But you’ve given us a lifetime of first, Lauren. I don’t think you’ll ever have any idea how special you are to me and your mom.”

-quote taken from my eARC of Roomies at 85%

♥ Rec It? Probably not. The concept behind this story– forging new friendships through the internet (which is where most of my friendships are) and growing up the summer before college– was good, but in the end, I was generally meh about the whole novel. However, if the Goodreads reviews and ratings are anything to go off of, it seemed that other readers liked it more than I did. It was a quick read, so you might want to check it out from a library if it interests you.

A very special thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with an early copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

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