Monday, January 13, 2014


The summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college is an exhilarating and terrifying time in life. Torn between nostalgia for the past and  excitement for the future, it is a summer where everything is changing and yet a person tries to hold on (to varying degrees depending on the person) to what they are leaving behind. Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando captures this precarious and brief time period beautifully.

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.

Roomies is a fascinating look at this one brief but major point in the lives of many young people. The dynamic between Elizabeth and Lauren is complicated. On the one hand, they will be living together, sharing the same small space for at least a year. On the other hand, they are largely anonymous at the time they are emailing each other and they sort of use that (and each other) as a way of unloading a lot of their secrets, fears, and musings on the world in general. It is an exchange that can only take place in the era where it so easy to hit that send button and so instantly regret it. There is an interesting commentary underlying it all on how we judge online interactions and build a person around words on a screen. It was a pivotal moment when Lauren suddenly thinks of Elizabeth as a person outside of the words they have been typing back and forth. At the same time this is a fairly typical YA story. Two fairly typical stories actually about two girls whose lives are changing and the ways in which they are coping with that (or not). Taken apart the stories have nothing about them to make them stand out from everything else. Put them together, tied by the emails that are part of both of their coping mechanisms, and you get a richer story that is about more than just one person and a life changing experience. It is about relationships, how we build them and tear them down, and how it is possible to simultaneously hold on and let go. 

Lauren is the character whose life I was able to relate to the most. She is a focused and driven. She has earned a full scholarship and works two jobs while also helping her parents out with her six younger siblings. She has great supportive parents and a wonderful home. She worked so hard through most of high school that she never had time to just relax and have fun. She comes across as judgmental even when she is trying to be diplomatic, but is also genuinely trying to figure out what she believes about things. (Like how important or not her virginity is.) Elizabeth comes from a single parent home. Her father is gay and left her mom, but in the process he abandoned her too. She hasn't seen him since she was seven. Her greatest wish is to get as far away from her small town and small life as she can. Her life comes with a lot of drama (soap opera drama as she calls it-Lauren's response to that was my favorite email in the book). I truly think I would not have liked either of their stories much separately.  Together though, they work really well. Despite being able to relate to Lauren more, I had more sympathy for Elizabeth and felt like her character was more rounded. Both girls have boys in their stories and while I don't think either romance was amazing, I did like both boys. I also liked that they were there, because I think that it is fairly typical to use a romantic connection as a way to hold you to what you are leaving behind at this time in life. I do like the realistic way the future of both relationships was looked at by all involved. 

I enjoyed the time I spent reading Roomies and the thoughts (and memories) that it inspired. It is certainly a book that anyone who is or has experienced this transition could relate to.

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