Roomies Review
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Growing up is hard to do. When a young person reaches that point of limbo between high school graduation and those first college classes, it’s hard to tell whether to be a kid or a grown-up. And authors Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando beautifully illustrate the excitement, anticipation, and anxiety of those in-between months in their young adult novel, Roomies.

The story follows two girls from opposite ends of the country as they prepare to leave their friends and families behind to start college at U. C. Berkeley. Lauren lives in San Francisco with her parents and five younger siblings. Elizabeth (“EB”), meanwhile, lives with her single mom by the beach in New Jersey. While she’s nervous about moving across the country, she’s also excited to make some new friends. So when she receives her roommate assignment a couple of months before the big moving day, she’s eager to connect with her new roommate by email.

Skipping back and forth to capture both girls’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences, Roomies does a remarkable job of depicting this emotional transition, with its conflicting desires to change and to keep things the same. Through their emails back and forth, the characters tell their stories, share their secrets, and open up about their deepest feelings. Though the two girls have their own lifestyles, their own personalities, and their own goals for the future, they share some of the same feelings—and, throughout their summer emails, they tackle all kinds of issues. They discuss everything from basic matters of family and friendship to deeper issues like race and sexuality. At times, the characters seem a little too open; after all, they’re sharing some of their most personal thoughts and feelings with an almost total stranger. But their honesty is often refreshing. Teen readers will definitely relate to the challenges they face and the questions they pose—and they’ll appreciate the fact that the authors manage to touch on a number of serious topics without making the story feel preachy or heavy-handed.

Of course, as anyone these days can tell you, it’s hard to express everything through email—without context or non-verbal communication. As a result, the roommates’ budding friendship hits its share of snares along the way. And their hurts and frustrations and misunderstandings add yet another layer to an already layered story.

Candid and complex, Roomies confronts just about every possible coming-of-age topic in a way that’s both thoughtful and entertaining. If you know of a grown-up-in-waiting who’s preparing to head off to college, this young adult novel is a great jumping-off point for a conversation about the challenges and decisions that come with growing up and moving on.

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