Allison's Book Bag

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Posted on: June 5, 2014

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is a novel about friendship and first loves. Of course, that statement describes just about all if the young adult adults out there. 🙂 It’s also about random room assignments. Ah, now therein lies a notable difference. Because Zarr and Altebrando have effectively portrayed the pre-college experience, Roomies is more than your typical reading fare.

Roomies is the first novel which Zarr has co-authored, a venture which I view as a success. Half the chapters are about Elizabeth, an only child of a divorced couple, who can’t wait to escape her New Jersey life and to restart it in college in California. The alternating other half of the chapters are about Lauren, the oldest of a family of six of Cleaver-like parents, who can’t wait for the privacy of a single room assignment. When the two are matched as college roommates, conflict naturally ensures.

While one author could naturally have pulled off Roomies on her own, how cool is it that each author took on a different persona? One author wrote as Elizabeth, whose lifestyle is comfortable enough that she can brainstorm about what appliances to bring to fill the shared room, and whose dating life is progressed enough that her biggest concern is whether or not to break up with her current boyfriend. Another author wrote as Lauren, whose parents constantly apologize to Lauren for overloading her life with siblings and who has just started to negotiate that confusing world of “friends with benefits”? The end result are two unique and complicated individuals, who just might find themselves with enough in common to form a strong bond of friendship.

Sex is not a new territory for Zarr to explore. Sometimes in her novels it has come in form of abuse or has been at the very least not desired by the main character. Other times, sex has been just an act in passing, as if sex is a natural and expected part of being a teenager. In Roomies, sex becomes an issue. One of the reasons why Elizabeth considers breaking up with her current boyfriend is that he won’t lay off asking her to sleep with him. Even her closest friends tend to view her as a prude for turning down his requests. And yet, ironically, she ends up feeling different about sex with her next boyfriend. Then there’s Lauren who, once she buys into the whole roommate deal, feels pressured to be like Elizabeth and so also finds herself wondering about whether or not to lose her virginity. While I’m just as happy reading books which don’t include sex, I appreciate how each girl struggled to make her own individual decision about what was right for her, instead of there just being one straightforward reaction. This is after all how life normally works.

What makes Roomies the biggest success for me is how it both slowly and surely brought me back to my pre-college days. And to the subsequent times when I have made major moves. Elizabeth starts out not being able to wait to leave home. She so badly wants to escape that her choice of college is on the other side of the country. This isn’t much different from my decision to uproot myself from Newfoundland to attend a college in Alabama. (High school hadn’t really been kind to me.) Throughout the course of the summer, Elizabeth falls in love as well as renews her relationship with her mom. Suddenly, saying goodbye isn’t so easy. Similarly, leaving Newfoundland for work in the United States was probably among the most toughest choices I’ve ever made.

As for Lauren, she starts out wanting nothing more than a private room. Along the way, she finds herself wishing she could just stay at home. Forever. And that nothing would change. On my part, during my first few visits home, I kept thinking about how could I just find work in Newfoundland. Just stay in my hometown. And hold onto my childhood. Forever. Of course, the reality is that my town has continued to change. As would my life is I had stayed. Change is inevitable. Which is something that both Elizabeth and Lauren come to both realize and embrace.

Roomies was a fitting book for me to read at this time. You see, every summer my husband and I visit my home province again. I’ll see family, relatives, and friends. Already I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with landmarks that have special meaning to me. I’ve also already been told of yet more changes which have occurred in my town. Going home is always a bittersweet experience. Which is also how I’d describe my pre-college days. It’s also an emotion that Roomies poignantly captures.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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