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ARC Review – Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

17573559Title: Roomies
Author: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Rating: ★★★★ / ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: 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.

Huge thank you to Little Brown Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for a copy of this book!

River’s Review – 4 Stars

Sooooo this book hit me a lot of ways. Some very weird. Others not. I connected with BOTH girls a lot because I’ve been through both of their situations college-wise. I actually went to school just 1 hour away from my parents… it was a good school and I had no real desire to move across the country or leave my family. I did want to get away but not that far away… so this worked. I went home on weekends to do laundry sometimes and my mom bought me food and I could see my dog. So I connected with Lauren on that.

Then at the end of college I moved to Japan for study abroad. Talk about moving across the globe! So I was able to relate to EB a lot, especially when she was going through all of the ‘last times…’ at the end. God, I did that when I moved to Japan the first time, left Japan the first time, and then moved back to Japan. It’s really something that you can’t even understand until you experience it.

I ALSO connected to the ‘first roommate’ thing. When I went away to school I did the random roommate thing and emailed a bit before going… we didn’t have much time to email so I didn’t get into that deep of a friendship with her, but we did the whole ‘who brings the microwave’ thing and decided we were going to be BFF and what-not. That blew up in my face 2nd semester when she basically single-white-female-ed me… but that’s a whole other story and doesn’t really connect to this book… but yeah. Totally understood the ‘first roomie’ thing.

I also liked the overall story, the way that the whole ‘spilling your guts to someone you don’t know’ phenomenon works. I’ve been one of those ‘friends with people I only know through correspondence’ people since high school. I had pen pals all over the country and then we all moved to the internet and blogging and twitter and I know how it can be to totally spill your life story to someone you’ve never met and then have them do something that makes you feel weird or awkward and think ‘why did I tell this total stranger this personal stuff’. I thought this was pretty interesting and loved the focus.

The writing was good, and I flew through this. Both girls had a clear voice (if you know me you know I HATE alternating first-person POV with a passion) and I really enjoyed reading their emails (sometimes this kind of thing in a book bothers me).

I did have trouble with the way some of the race/sexuality stuff was handled. At times it felt preachy and overall it was just really awkward. When I was reading it I often felt like ‘wow, this could have been done differently…’ or ‘was that really necessary’. But after thinking about it for awhile I came to the conclusion that maybe it was good that it was so awk. Teens and race and sexuality IS AWKWARD. Hell, it’s awkward for adults. There is no real good way to approach this kind of stuff. I hate it when books breeze over it like ~everybody~ accepts people of other races and different sexual orientations because it’s NOT TRUE. So while it did make me feel weird to read it, maybe that was the point. I’m very torn over this now because I dislike how it took me out of the story, but it did make me think… so yeah. I’m not even sure what could have been done. Maybe, just maybe, only one could have been focused on because both seemed to be just dealt with on a very shallow, surface level and if there was only one focused on we could have possibly gotten some deeper revelation or growth out of the character dealing with it. I guess EB’s dad being gay didn’t really feel like it was needed for anything more than the reason why her mom is the way she is… but Keyon being black and Lauren dealing with dating someone out of her race… that did feel like it was useful to the story and could have been handled in such a way that showed some growth in her… when really the growth that she experienced was with her family. Ah, I don’t even know!

So yeah… over all really liked this and was able to relate to it A LOT, but some stuff just felt like it could have been handled differently to make the story benefit from it more.

Sam’s Review – 3.5 Stars

Unlike most readers of this novel, I wasn’t fortunate enough to go away for college, nor did I ever find myself in a situation with a roommate. This may be way I had a hard time making connections while reading Roomies. I feel as if I was in the boat of going away for college this book would have likely had a bigger impact on me.

I think Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando did a great job with the alternating points of view and characterization. Both Elizabeth and Lauren’s voices were so easy to fall into that I never felt confused as to whose perspective I was reading. I think both girls come full of baggage, with their own personal trials and tribulations to overcome and that’s what I enjoyed most about the story. I think it helped that good chunks of the narrative were also written in e-mails because it added that extra personal touch to make each girl really come to life.

Admittedly, I had a harder time connecting to Elizabeth. In fact, she reminded me of someone in my past whose behavior I can honestly say I wasn’t fond of a lot of the time. It’s not to say Elizabeth is a bad person, its more so that she plays her only child card up so hard at times that she does come across very selfish, spoiled and demanding, yet it makes perfect sense because she suffers from abandonment issues. Parts of her behavior were grating, but I feel like the authors justified it well for the most part.

I will say, Lauren was the character I had an easier time with. Her problems of trying to do what she feels is expected of her is something I can relate to easily. Lauren wants to give so much of herself, to the point where she doesn’t acknowledge that she herself should matter equally in her family equation. That’s where I really saw our similarities and I feel like what I can appreciate with Lauren is that (for the most part) she’s honest and stays true to herself. She knows the truth hurts yet she’s someone who is able to accept it and even learn from it, something that takes Elizabeth a lot longer to process.

There is such a clarity in both girl’s voices, yet there were a few aspects of this book that bothered me, particularly how race and sexuality were handled. It’s weird how important sex is in this book to Elizabeth, yet sometimes it was glossed over and brushed aside in a very hush-hush way. I kept asking myself in this was necessary, and moreover I found the way race was handled to be even more awkward and unnecessary just because Elizabeth again behaviors like race is this very “foreign thing.” These aspects remove the reader from the story and I did find myself (and talking to my co-blogger about it) because I kept asking myself what the point of adding these aspects were and how little in a way it meant to the overall story. These two situations truly spoiled parts of the narrative for me. Also Elizabeth’s gay dad? There could have been a better way to handle that situation, and its just so tacky the way its done because you’re never really told why this is such a big deal, yet Keyon being black — that is a huge deal. There’s no consistency for these subject matters, something I wish the book would have addressed in a much more focused way. They feel phoned in, but not well explained.

While I think Roomies is an enjoyable read, I think the problems are something that need to be addressed because it really does kill the immersion of the story in a lot of ways. I think this book would have definitely clicked with me more had I had the quintessential college experience, but as an outsider, I was okay with this. Roomies has its problems, but it is a fast and engaging read, one where if you can overlook the book’s issues, can be fun to read.