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Bookish Delights: Roomies

Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
When Elizabeth (EB) receives a letter naming her freshman-year roommate, she's excited. Finally, the idea of college is becoming more tangible! As she reaches out to her future roomie, Lauren, the two become entangled in a series of technological exchanges that spark the beginning of a complex relationship. Starting from the basic platitudes introducing themselves and squaring away the preliminary question of who is bringing what appliances, the girls begin to connect on a deeper level while dealing with the changes taking place and re-examining their family life. Both girls must deal with their families, current friends, and new summer crushes while anticipating a major change that will completely rock their world.

Each girl comes from a different background and upbringing; EB is from the East Coast and has lived with her single mother for most of her life. She's an only child who feels lonely, even around her friends, who seem to have more fun with one another without her. She suffers from the "grass is greener" syndrome. She feels mostly unhappy in her home life and hopes that relocating herself across the country will solve her problems. Lauren lives in Cali with a huge family and is only moving an hour away for college. She stresses over money and taking care of her 5 siblings, so she rarely allows herself downtime by herself or with friends. She hoped to have a single suite and not have to share her living space with a roommate, so she causes the relationship to start of rocky as she tries to remain as inaccessible as possible. She has an air of moral superiority and has her boundaries pushed throughout the course of the novel.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is an ambitious work that perfectly captures the emotions and complexities of the transition period between graduating high school and starting college. It recreates the nuances of social interactions to a tee with all the overthinking, hidden meaning, and unspoken social rules that come with navigating adult interactions. It lightly deals with sex and virginity; EB feels pressured by her friends and boyfriend for "being a prude," but I love that she stands up for what she wants and owns up to her decisions. The authors also touch on long-distance relationships and friendships coming to a natural end.

"Is that the destiny of all friendships, no matter how good they are? To die out or face away? To end?"

A reoccuring theme is technology being a hinderance to really developing a meaningful relationship with someone you've never met, something I feel is an accurate assessment although a little overstated. It is admittedly difficult to discern tone and personality from text, which can lead to insecurities and second-guessing a person's intentions. Lauren is constantly eschewing technology for being impersonal and creating faux personal relationships as exemplified by her constant waffling opinions and wild (negative) assumptions about EB's character. I feel her reasoning has more to do with her unwillingness to open herself up to other people and less of a technological fault.

My only problem with the novel was that the personal journal-style storytelling left a lot of ideas hanging. For example, the treatment of EB's mother, who she at one point describes as a "desperate whore" for shacking up with a married man. Due to the circumstances [spoilers!] her anger is understandable, but it's never addressed to my satisfaction. EB never has a serious conversation with her mother about how her actions are affecting her, she just judges her and tells her to "do better" and grow up. I kept waiting for someone to explain that yes, it's not ideal and adultery is bad blah, blah, but she is a grown woman who can do what she wants and shouldn't be condemned for her sex life alone. The source of her immaturity should have been clearly identified as her strained relationship with her daughter, and not that she chose to date around.

Ultimately, it's a bittersweet novel that triggers nostalgia from my college days and does a great job making me relive my experience through these girls' perspective. I recommend this to anyone looking for an emotionally intense YA read. People who have gone (or are about to go) away to college will especially relate.

I received an advance copy for review from NetGalley.

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