Roomies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara AltebrandoElizabeth is counting the days until her freshman year of college starts. She is more than ready to leave her small life in New Jersey behind and start fresh and new in California even if her friends don’t quite understand her need for distance. After years and years as an only child with a single mother, Elizabeth is thrilled at the prospect of meeting–or more accurately emailing–her new roommate Lauren.

San Francisco native Lauren is much less excited to be sharing yet another room after years and years of sharing a room and a too-small house with her too many siblings. She wanted a single and she is counting days for a very different reason as she tries to imagine life when she is no longer a daily fixture in her own family.

What starts as an innocuous email about whether to buy a microwave or a mini-fridge turns into a series of emails that might lead to friendship and a few other insights during a summer filled with possibility in Roomies (2013) by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando and Zarr wrote this novel together, emailing each other chapters without any discussion of an overarching plot. Altebrando wrote Elizabeth’s chapters while Zarr wrote Lauren’s.

I commuted through college and I’ve never had a roommate. This book was very low on my radar despite the high profile authors. I hate to admit but I wouldn’t have even read it except Nicole needed a wingman for a signing. Then it become our second Synchronized Read. And I kind of loved it.

Roomies is a very alien world me–a story of people with siblings and plans to move away and lots of other things I did not do as a high school senior looking toward college. That said, it’s still totally evocative with a perfect balance of fun and depth.

Lauren and Elizabeth are two very different girls with different priorities yet their friendship that evolves through a series of emails is organic and ultimately completely believable. Although much of the novel involves emails it is also worth noting that this is not an epistolary novel. Each girl narrates a chapter where they happen to write an email (and read an email at some point).

The plot here isn’t action-packed or overly shocking. Roomies is very much grounded in the themes you would expect: moving forward, end-of-something-nostalgia, family. Happily instead of moving into the territory of melodrama or superficiality, Roomies remains a very down to earth read and a story with heart.

What really sets Roomies apart is the writing. Altebrando and Zarr’s styles mesh perfectly to create a seamless narrative with two unique but complementary stories. Both Elizabeth and Lauren are refreshingly frank and honest with themselves as much as with each other. While Lauren and Elizabeth aren’t always certain they want to be friends (or even roommates), they are definitely two heroines that readers are sure to love.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

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