BOOK REPORT for Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando


Cover Story: Graphic
BFF Charm: Yay and Meh
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit
Bonus Factors: College Transition, Diversity
Relationship Status: I'll Let You Borrow My Favorite Sweater

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Cover Story: Graphic 

I LOVE how much the artwork looks like a graphic novel cover.* Also, props for making the dorm room dimensions look realistic, as opposed to Hollywood, where every college student slums it in a room five times the size of my condo. 

*And if it tricks a comics fan into reading some YA, even better.

The Deal:

In just a few months, Elizabeth (also known as EB) and Lauren will be heading off to the wide open world of college, where they'll be roommates. And, because helicopter parents still haven't managed to repeal the Laws of Potluck, these two girls have never met.

When EB, a burgeoning landscape architect who lives with her mom in Jersey, shoots off an email to Lauren, a future biochem major who lives with her gigantic family in San Francisco, it sparks a summer-long conversation that covers boys, the transition to college and everything in between. Both girls are simultaneously exhilarated and terrified by the changes ahead, and as they get closer to their real-life hello, they must grapple with saying good-bye to life as they know it.

BFF Charm: Yay and Meh

Lauren is the bomb dot com. She's got a TON of siblings who are all much younger in age, so instead of a sister, she's more like a second mom to them. And yet she NEVER complains. In fact, she's thankful for her family! She appreciates her parents! But before you go thinking that she's, like, Beth March or some shizz, fear not. Lauren isn't angelic, nor is she boring. She's just got a great head on her shoulders, and her character's complexity makes it possible for her to be good without being a goody goody.

Oh, EB. Girlfriend has way more baggage than Lauren, given that her dad turned out to be gay, then moved to San Francisco and ceased all contact. Then there's EB's mom, a dating machine who operates on very little self-esteem. I can't blame EB for being sensitive and prone to emotional extremes, but that doesn't mean I want to have late night pizza parties in the dorm with her. I liked her, and I'd be down for watching some Veronica Mars with her and her mom, but I'm just too old for her drama.

(That's why Lauren is such a great match for EB, since having lots of little siblings has given her patience. And lord knows, that's gonna come in handy while living with EB.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

The boys in this book are preeeeetty great. Even better, they both fall under the category of Whirlwind Summer Romance. EB meets Mark through a landscaping gig, and their attraction to each other is instantaneous and intense. Mark is one of those guys who has a good heart but still manages to be hot. He and EB make a list of things to do in order to pack all of the trappings of a relationship into one month, and it's the sweetest thing ever. Slow dancing! Having a fight! Making up! Picking "their" song! Gah, it's adorable.

Lauren also lucks out with a good guy by the name of Keyon, one of the popular jocks at her school. They get to know each other through their job at a local sandwich shop, and I can see why Keyon was popular, because dude is CHARMING. Their banter together is great, and I loved discovering, along with Lauren, that Keyon isn't the player he seems to be.

Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit

Over at FYA, we are mad crazy about Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Individually, they are fantastic writers, so the fact that they wrote a book together makes me go:

The chapters alternate between Lauren and EB's point of view, and their voices are so honest and so real that my brain literally forgot that I was reading. Each word masterfully yet naturally led me deeper and deeper into the minds of these girls until they felt so familiar, I wondered if we had actually attended high school together.

Zarr and Altebrando are both gifted with deft, careful hands when it comes to emotion, and there's something clean about their writing— there's no clutter here, no unnecessary descriptions or frivolous conversations. The story of Lauren and EB is refreshingly straightforward yet wonderfully complicated.

Bonus Factor: College Transition

There aren't many young-adult books about college (unless you count the glut of "new adult" trashy romances, which I do not), and there's even fewer about the transition to college. That's a shame, since in just those few short months, your identity, not to mention your life, can completely change. There's so many questions, so many fears, so many wild bursts of excitement; it's one of the craziest emotional roller coasters you'll ever ride.

Roomies does an immense job of capturing that liminal time, when everything that seemed permanent suddenly seems vulnerable. For example, Lauren's friendship with her bestie, Zoe:

She'll be going off to Seattle University soon, anyway. In some ways it feels like no big deal. We've had our good years and our bad years and always wind up as solid as ever with no major drama. In other ways, it seems like we've already started to say good-bye.

A lot of our conversations are about memories.

I read that passage and my heart gave an involuntary, "I know, right?!!!"

And then there's the feeling of wanting the freedom of adulthood while craving the safety of your childhood:

There aren't words to say what I'm feeling, this mix of being so ready to strike out on my own and at the same time wanting to be ten again, eight, six.

Lauren and EB, I hate to tell you this, but even as a 34-year-old woman, I still have moments when I want to be eight again.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

There's interracial dating in this book, what what! Keyon is black, and Lauren is white, and we can all pretend like that doesn't matter, but of course, even in today's world, it does. I admire this book for honestly examining that experience instead of sugarcoating it.

Casting Call:

Katie Findlay as Lauren

Victoria Justice as EB

Relationship Status: I'll Let You Borrow My Favorite Sweater

I like having my own space, but I feel so comfortable around this book, I wouldn't mind hanging out with it in close quarters. It's the perfect roommate, because its sincerity means we can have heart-to-hearts, and its vivid spirit means we can have late night dance parties in our pajamas. I can count on this book to be thoughtful, to be understanding and to never, ever sexile me.

In other words, even if I get offered a single next year, I'm still sticking with this book.

Roomies is available now.