One of the good things about attending university away from home is the opportunity to live with a roommate. For some, who have never needed to share a space with anyone, it is a valuable learning experience, but even for people who grew up with siblings (like me) having a roommate for at least the first year of university goes a long way to assuage the homesickness and nervousness.
I have had four roommates on three occasions (roomed with two during Semester at Sea). Happily I have no horror stories, but in all cases we only met on the very first day of rooming together – in other words, we were not given each other’s details ahead of time, as happened with the protagonists in Roomies.
Written by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, this is the narrative of two girls at opposite ends the USA, preparing for their Freshman year of college and their time together as roommates. Elizabeth (EB), from the East Coast, grew up as an only child with a single mom, while Lauren from San Francisco has a bustling, big family with many little kids needing looking-after.
Sent each other’s details by Berkeley’s administration, EB emails Lauren under the guise of logistics. After a somewhat rocky start, their emails pick up speed and their friendship grows.
Of course, it is the Summer before they begin college: for the first time, they really are free from school, and this freedom comes with inherent change. How will they leave their families behind? How will they balance work, school and play in the semester to come? And how does one deal with saying goodbye to the oldest friends?
Roomies is a sweet tale of all these things, and it is an on-point description of that crazy, life-changing summer in-between.
What I liked about the story was that it was realistic. I read a few summer-before-college stories when I was younger, and they were so full of partying, snogging and going crazy that there was very little character development. I though that Lauren and EB developed well throughout the plot, and the romantic parts were sweet and not over-the-top. There is some drama that threatens to get annoying at times, but it contributes well to the plot-development.
I don’t think that adult readers will necessarily find too much joy in Roomies, simply because this is kind of a niche-book. I think high school girls will love this, especially high school seniors.
Things I missed in this book: I think the fact that roommates do not have to be best buddies was missing from this. Of course it is necessary to be on a good footing, and to be able to honest but considerate, but expecting to be best friends can lead to disappointment. I also kind of wished that we could read a little more of EB and Lauren’s Freshman year. I think Zarr and Altebrando make a great writing team. At the same time I can understand that the story ends nicely on the day EB and Lauren meet, and the reader can fantasise about the rest of their adventures.
Roomies made me miss my first year, which rarely happens. It also makes me a huge proponent of “meeting” a roommate before Day 1 – I wish I had met my roommates the summer before!
Disclaimer: I received this as an e-galley from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Americans seem to take the roommate thing in their stride, but most english graduates, and students, find the idea of having to share a room with a stranger utterly horrific. Its bad enough having to share common space in a flat where you get your own bed/study room and then have to share the kitchen and living room (actaully its sharing the kitchen that’s really bad). My partner and I are both agreed that we would have thought twice about going to uni at all if we knew it meant sharing a bedroom ( he went to cambridge where some of the older colleges have rooms that run into each other, but he was given the choice to avoid it)
It kind of varies in South Africa. Rooming is not compulsory, but it is near impossible to get a single room in your first year, so students averse to sharing tend to get an apartment. But residence life is highly prized here, and it is a battle getting a spot, so students tend to put up with sharing for a year or two, just for the culture. Interesting, because in most aspects of university life, South Africa is more like England than like the US!