Roomies – Sara Zaar and Tara Altebrando
You know when you read a book and you think, God, I wish I’d had this x amount of years ago because I was at a point in my life when this would have been perfect? Yeah. That. I could have really done with this novel (and, oddly, the movie, High School Musical 3) during the summer between school finishing and university starting.
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.
Now, I should mention, where I live, in the UK, it’s actually kinda rare to go to uni and be given an actual room mate, you have flat mates or house mates or whatever, but an actual roomie is unusual. I for instance, in my first year, didn’t get into halls (or dorms) and ended up in a house that was rented by the university that was supposed to be lived in by four people. As it happened, I spent my first term living in it alone, which is probably one of many reasons why I hated university so much. But enough about me, let’s talk about this book instead.
So, this book manages to do something that a lot of books struggle with: Dual narrators. Luckily, it has two authors, which meant that both girls had really distinctive voices and even without the handy chapter headings and changes of font, both of them were instantly recognisable. Which was all kinds of awesome, because, well, there’s no point to having two people tell you a story if they sound like one person. The dual narration was also perfect because it managed to put across two different people, from two different backgrounds, perspectives on the essentially the same thing. You got to see which feelings were universal and which weren’t. The characters themselves were well written, I find that a lot of people who write for teenagers end up making me cringe when talking in txt spk knd of lk dis, but there was none of that, finally, it seems that authors have realised that teenagers can actually be articulate. The only thing that irked me with the characters was that both of them seemed a little fixated on race. Lauren has a thing with a guy called Keyon and tells this to Elizabeth, who immediately jumps to: oh my God, what if Lauren’s black? I don’t know any black people, how do I be cool in front of a black person? And then Lauren being all, oh, this guy I like is black, how will my parents react? Honey, it’s 2014, if people are still getting uptight about the colour of people’s skin, then they have clearly just stepped out of a time machine and need to go back to the past. The only other thing was that Elizabeth makes a big thing out of her dad being gay. Yes, her dad is a lying douchebag, but I’m pretty sure being a lying douchebag is a universal trait and for her to keep going: My dad is gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. makes me think that Elizabeth thinks there is something wrong with that. But, these two things were mentioned so little that it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book and well, only having two tiny niggles out of a whole novel is kind of good going.
If you’re looking for a paper back version of this, I should tell you that the cover is amazing, it looks like a graphic novel and was part of the reason why I was so drawn to it. It isn’t a graphic novel, but the cover is still cool regardless.
Basically, Roomies is a fun, entertaining read about building a friendship online prior to meeting in real life, which is an interesting concept in itself, plus there’s the added drama of both girls being so honestly written and their excitement and reservations of leaving home and being along for the first time are both realistic and complex and so wonderfully teenage. I said at the beginning about how I wished I’d had this to read between leaving school and going to university, it’s a really weird limbo time of your life, where you’re surrounded by friends and your family and everything that is familiar and yet nothing is as you know it, because you’re all leaving, you’re all going to do different things in different places, your family home is going to continue without you whether you have a great relationship with your parents or not and it’s a time of life that I find so difficult to explain to people because it’s sort of weird feeling lost in your own home. This book managed to capture all those complex feelings perfectly, Lauren, who loves her family, but wants some time without them and Elizabeth who is infuriated with her family and wondering why she’s friends with the people she’s friends with just summed everything that I felt in that weird between time.
Honestly, with people getting ready to leave home for the first time to head to university, this book could not come at a better time, if you are going away and you feel a little lost, or have a slight anxious feeling you can’t quite put your finger on, a fear that things will change and that the people you love now won’t be the same when you next see each other at Christmas and of course, worrying about who you’re going to have to spend the time living with in your first year, as if things weren’t difficult enough, then this is the book for you. It is fiction, this isn’t a self help book at all, but having everything that you feel summed up for you in the plight of these two girls will help and even if, like me, you’re old now and university and those feelings are long behind you, it’s still definitely worth the read.