Synchronized Reading Roundup: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

This month Nicole and I read Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts I wrote up for the Synchronized Reading:

You can also head over to Nicole’s blog to see her posts:

Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #2: Vacation Destination Memories

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Roomies is written with emails between Elizabeth and Lauren with Lauren in San Francisco and Elizabeth in a beach town in New Jersey. So for our second Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about a memorable vacation. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I have not taken a lot of vacations that involve actually going places. I have been to visit family in New Jersey a couple of times. I have been to Disney World (which was glorious and fabulous and I want to go back right now). I went to Boston twice but don’t remember much of the first trip and the biggest memories of the second trip are going to the supermarket with my aunt and being shocked at how enormous it was.

In college I went on one spring break trip with my honors college to Montreal (this was before you needed a passport to get into Canada) where we saw the Notre Dame cathedral (church-like with a gift shop), went to the Musee de Beaux Art (amazing on every level and I wish I could have stayed longer), and ate poutine (*shudders*). Other things happened but aside from being cold all the time those were the highlights. Oh and I bought earrings shaped like Maple leaves.

I could talk about any of those vacations.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the trip I took to Los Angeles in 2006.

In 2006 I was a Senior Staff Writer for my college newspaper. I did not yet have my own column for book reviews but I did have a few articles I was really proud of among my clippings or whatever you call them.

That year through a series of weird luck, I was invited to attend a college newspaper conference with the editorial staff and a couple of other writers and photographers. It was totally bananas to be asked to go and totally cheap (I only paid airfare).

Now, as you all might have guessed, I tend to stay close to home. So I wasn’t sure about this whole flying cross-country thing. It was a weird time in the middle of a semester (which led to my having to redo a midterm for the first and only time in my live) and I had lost a lot of weight so none of my clothes fit particularly well (one of my souvenirs from this trip was a belt–no lie). But then my Aunt Linda and my mom and I were talking about it. And Linda said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was something I’d be talking about for the rest of my life. And you know what? She was right.

I’m not even going to talk about the flights because they were miserable. Frankly, LA is a terrible city for people who don’t drive. It’s not a place I’d ever want to live. I’m not even sure I’d visit it again. But the trip was a lot of fun. (I recently reconnected with one of my roomies from this trip on Facebook and it was kind of nice seeing her photos of the trip were still online and still knowing there was proof out there that I was on it with her and everyone else.)

Somewhere I have an essay I wrote in my college memoir class about the saga that getting the Getty became. I have photos of the artwork and even brochures about the Courbet exhibit we went to see. It took hours but it was worth it. I would even brave LA again to visit that museum. I still have a keychain from there that I never use because I don’t want to break it.

I have pictures of the Hollywood sign and the walk of fame (there is so much walk of fame to walk) as well as pressed pennies somewhere from Universal Studio’s studio walk which probably has a different name in real life. Either way our hotel was near there and this walk would blast Nickelback’s “Photograph” all the time which has made it a song synonymous with that trip (in addition to being a personal favorite).

I don’t have a lot of the souvenirs I bought on that trip anymore. No crazy rhinestone baseball cap or fuzzy dice. No college newspaper t-shirt (it wore out). I’m not even in touch with a lot of people I went on the trip with although at the time we were all pals and had great fun (I did, anyway. I hope everyone else did too.) whether it was just me and my two roomies getting lost on our way to the Getty or the whole staff discussing favorite punctuation marks at the farewell dinner. All I really have left are some silly touristy keychains from the trip, photos of varying quality from my non-smartphone and the disposable cameras I had at the time and lots of memories which, it turns out, is more than enough.

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #1: Last Summers and First Steps

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Meditations on change and the last summer of high school are big parts of Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. So for our first Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about our own summers before college. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I commuted to college. My high school was four blocks away and my university of choice was only a half hour on the subway (except that one time I had to WALK there during the transit strike to take an Art History final but whatever).

I had been working since I was 17 and I kept the same job through college and grad school. Later when I was underemployed in a place of employ that wasn’t even close to my area of expertise, I would question that choice as I would question many others. At the time all I knew was work study jobs did not pay as well and did not involve working fun YA books every shift.

I don’t remember much from that summer.

I can probably tell you I did things with my high school friends in addition to the expected undying declarations of friendship. But, like the declarations of friendship, the memories didn’t stick.

I definitely spent time with my mom because I always do that (she’s excellent company). There would have been street fairs and other summer-y things. Mom and I definitely watched Big Brother that year because I never, ever miss a season. I might even have some movie ticket stubs from that summer.

But none of those memories are ones that jump out.

I can go on goodreads and tell you what books I read (which seems to have included several formative titles like Emma, The Eyre Affair, Alice I Think and Sender Unknown). That year was the first year I read a lot of YA. Previously I had read a combination of childrens/middle grade titles (some of which were YA crossovers), mysteries, and classics.

That all changed when I started working with the YA librarian at my first place of employ. At the time I didn’t think of her that way, but she was a formative influence for me as well–not just a coworker or a librarian but that rare amalgam of those things and whatever else makes someone a lasting influence. I don’t know if the seed was planted right that summer but I can say with certainty that working with Karyn in the YA section (and Susan Pope–a children’s librarian who literally gave me a foot in the door) started me on the path to becoming a librarian myself.

I attended that year’s summer reading party to “help” (and have fun) and I still have a couple of giveaway books I took that day as well as some really solid memories of decorating a pencil case that would come with me to my first day of college classes. (A miserable day where I was trapped in the wrong wing of the university building for a solid thirty minutes, knew absolutely no one and had not yet fine-tuned the commute to that easy-to-manage half hour.)

What I also have from that summer reading party are the gifts Karyn gave me as she moved to a new position and I moved in a less drastic way to college.

She gave me this magnet:

It still hangs on a shelf near my desk and it is a sentiment that I have tried to listen to more and more as I get older.

Karyn also gave me a spiral notebook with a beautiful inscription from her wishing me great things. And I still have it because nothing has seemed quite special enough to use it. I have a hard time filling notebooks but that’s a whole other story.

(I already emailed Karyn a few weeks ago to thank her for giving me that start and to tell her how much it meant to me then and still means to me now. If you have someone in your life who filled a similar capacity, tell them. Gratitude should never be a secret.)

I guess what I really took from that summer even if I didn’t know it quite as specifically then comes back to Karyn’s gift: Be Yourself.

New beginnings are always scary. I’ve had some bad ones and some extremely scary ones. But I’ve always done what I know makes sense for me. I’ve always tried to be true to who I want to be. And now, with things coming together in various ways, I’m finally able to say that all of those beginnings and endings are starting to make sense.

Synchronized Reading: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Synchronized Reading is back! This time Nicole and I will be reading Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Be sure to check here this week and also check out Nicole’s blog to get the full reading picture!

I was Nicole’s wing-person for a Roomies event at McNally Jackson a few months ago. We both had a great time and really enjoyed exploring the bookstore (it was our first time seeing it). The craziest thing is (spoiler!) I really enjoyed Roomies but I had no plans to read it (or own it) before this even because I commuted to college and therefore had relatively little interest in the whole roomie experience.

Roomies has a lovely cover and I obviously had a manicure to match (this was also my birthday party confetti manicure–but what good is a manicure if it can’t multitask?)



In summary: Nicole and I will be reading Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando together. We will be blogging about it. It will be awesome. You, too, can read Roomies as it is already released.

How to Save a Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Save a Life by Sara ZarrJill MacSweeney wants to go back to the life she had before. But that’s impossible because her father was alive before and now he isn’t. She had friends and a boyfriend before and now she can barely talk to anyone without biting their heads off. She and her mother had Jill’s dad to bridge the gap between them before. Now all Jill has is her mother making the insane decision to adopt a baby after exchanging a few emails with the mother. How can  anything be normal with that looming?

Mandy Kalinowski knows she might not be the best mother for her baby. That’s why she was so happy to find Robin–an older woman with a stable life who wants a baby to love. It should be the perfect arrangement. Except Robin’s daughter seems to hate Mandy on sight. And as her due date looms closer and closer, Mandy starts to wonder if making the right decision for her baby might not be as simple as she thought.

As Jill and Mandy get to know each other, everything starts to change. The question is will the changes make things worse or better in How to Save a Life (2011) by Sara Zarr.

Find it on Bookshop.

How to Save a Life was an interesting read. At the beginning of the novel Jill is so angry and Mandy is trying so hard to manipulate everything to go her way, that it was initially quite hard to connect with either character. I even skimmed to the ending because I  was uncertain of if I wanted to finish the book. Still, I persisted and even with that sneak peek at the outcome, this was an interesting read.

Zarr’s writing is eloquent and does a great job bringing Mandy and Jill’s landscapes to life. Unfortunately, Zarr packs so much into the story with Mandy’s complicated past and Jill’s grieving that ultimately both characters feel thinly drawn because so much is happening rather than well-developed because of it.

Watching Jill and Mandy’s transformations throughout the story was interesting if not earth shattering. It was also refreshing to see some present and engaged parents in a YA novel (along with the more expected horrible parents). How To Save a Life does manage to take a potentially predictable book in an unexpected direction with characters that always feel real.

Possible Pairings: Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten