By Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Read my review of The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life
I love that the explosion of sexy reads about twentysomethings is starting to bring about interest in books that are about life in college, or just before college, without necessarily being about an intense romantic relationship. I wish there'd been more books about this time of life back when I was in college.
ROOMIES is about the last summer before college for the alternating narrators, EB and Laura. EB a New Jersey girl is excited to move across the country to San Francisco and hopes to make friends with her roommate because, well, she won't know anyone else. Laura hoped for a single because she's moving out of her house with five siblings and just wants some alone time. EB's perky email introducing herself was not what Laura hoped for.
It's a great premise for a novel, because the roommate relationship is such a unique one and so very variable. You could be best friends with your roommate and hate living with them. You could hate them but think they're great to live with because they never eat your food or steal your makeup. Or anywhere in between! Pre-move-in email exchanges are basically the only thing you know about the person you'll be living with for a year before you make that plunge. (Unless you decide to room with a friend when you go off to college.) Plus, it's a situation ripe for misunderstandings. Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando clearly had a great deal of fun playing with the idea.
I found it a little hard to warm to EB and Laura at first because they were both determined to think the worst of each other based off of some pretty ungenerous readings of each other's emails. Then I started really getting into their stories. Laura's is the simpler one. She's preparing to move away from her close family, which is difficult even though it's something she really wants, and maybe starting a relationship with a coworker. Her coworker is black, and ROOMIES does a great job of dealing with how people act like they don't notice that but do. EB, meanwhile, is having to deal with her mom's affair with a married man, the new guy she likes despite having a boyfriend, and getting up the courage to talk to her estranged gay dad who lives in San Francisco. It is to the book's credit that it refers to this storyline as a soap opera but doesn't let it get too overly dramatic.
I really loved how many relationships are woven into ROOMIES. There is the girls' growing, fraught relationship, of course. But both of their family relationships are explored, as are their relationships with boys, and their relationships with their best female friends, all of which are changing because going off to college is a huge transition. It's very realistic, which helps keep ROOMIES moving smoothly along instead of feeling overstuffed.
I think ROOMIES will be a big hit with contemporary fans and anyone who is making their own transition to college. It's very positive while not ignoring potential negativity, and often just sweet and funny. Just don't be fooled by the cover: they don't make it to the dorm room until the very end. And you'll have to read the book to find out whether EB and Laura decide to live together after all.
Be sure to visit on January 10th when I post my own Roomies story and give away a copy of ROOMIES!