Roomies – Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

roomies“An engaging and heart-warming ‘two voice’ story of an East Coast/West Coast digital friendship that begins when Elizabeth emails her soon-to-be college roommate, Lauren. On the cusp of freedom during their last summer before starting a new independent life away from home, they discover the catharsis that an anonymous email friendship can bring as they chronicle the tension, excitement and anxiety of leaving their homes, falling in love, and finding the right mini-fridge…”

Roomies is a work of young adult fiction, focusing on two girls about to start their university journey – the first being Elizabeth, or ‘EB’, who lives with her mother and cannot wait to escape their strained relationship to head to Berkley, in California – funnily enough, the place where her semi-estranged father just happens to live. One day she receives an email assigning her roommate – Lauren. Lauren is the polar opposite of EB; the eldest of many children, Lauren – or Lo – is constantly helping her parents take care of their demanding brood, and when she’s not doing that she’s busy working.

An introductory email from EB to Lauren sees the relationship off to a somewhat rocky start – Lauren has been longing for a single room after the insanity of her current living status, and her standoffish reply immediately puts EB’s hackles up. But the girls continue to email and soon move on to friendly territory, discussing their very different lives and families, and the not-so-different new relationships they’re both tentatively embarking on. Their friendship becomes strained, however, when Lauren –– who, it turns out, lives near to EB’s father’s art gallery – realises that EB’s father isn’t being entirely honest with EB and feels bound by their new-found friendship to tell her. But her well-meaning intentions are misinterpreted by EB and the confession blows up in both of their faces. Will the two repair things in time for university? Will EB’s relationship with her mother move on to smoother territory before they leave? Will Lauren feel ready to leave the warm bosom of her family? And will both girls’ fragile relationships withstand the distance?

Roomies is a relatable novel that will resonate with many young adults, including those about to head to university – and those who already have started, or left, and can well remember their nervous lead-up to their entirely new life. Often I find joint authorship can make novels clunky and not as cohesive as those written by singular novelists, but an authorial pairing was perfect for this style of novel. With chapters written by each of the girls in turn, Sara and Tara perfectly capture each of their starkly different personalities. A highly enjoyable read.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the review copy.

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