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There's really no better time during which to set a young adult novel than the summer between high school and college. That brief but all-important summer in many ways crystallizes many of the themes that pop up over and over in young adult literature, particularly the simultaneous terror and fear of being poised between childhood and adulthood.

In their co-written novel ROOMIES, Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando explore that fateful summer from the points of view of two very different girls who are perfect strangers when the novel opens but are about to become very well acquainted when they share a tiny freshman dorm room at the University of California, Berkeley.

[ROOMIES is] lively and realistic and will no doubt lead young readers to imagine what their own college roommates will be like.

When she receives the official notification of her roommate assignment from Berkeley, Elizabeth immediately reaches out to her assigned roommate, Lauren. Elizabeth (known as EB) lives near the New Jersey shore, while Lauren lives right across the bay from Berkeley in San Francisco. Elizabeth hopes that Lauren can give her some tips on West Coast life, but she's both surprised and a bit put off by Lauren's initially terse reply.

The two of them overcome their rocky start, however, and soon they're confiding things to each other that they wouldn't even tell their best friends. How to deal with leaving those high school best friends is actually a topic of conversation, as are family issues. EB is an only child whose parents are divorced. Her father, who came out as gay when Elizabeth was a little girl, actually lives in San Francisco, but he and EB haven't really spoken for years. Her mother has gone on to date a series of inappropriate guys, including her current paramour, who may in fact be a married man.

Lauren has very different family problems; she's got five siblings under the age of seven, and caring for them takes up practically all of her free time. She can't wait to have some freedom (and to share a room with just one person her age instead of with her two little sisters). So why does she feel so sad at the thought of leaving?

Romantic relationships can also be pretty complicated the summer after high school, and there's no exception for EB and Lauren. EB has had a boyfriend for six months, but she finds herself thinking impure thoughts about a client she meets on her summer landscaping job. And Lauren, too, finds herself in the "more than friends" zone with her coworker at the deli. The two girls seek out each other's advice over email --- but is it possible that their own friendship will fall apart before it's truly begun?

Zarr and Altebrando use an entertaining mix of traditional narration and emails to tell their stories in alternating chapters. At times these formats overlap, leading to a little bit of narrative redundancy. Their stories are nevertheless lively and realistic and will no doubt lead young readers to imagine what their own college roommates will be like.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 17, 2013

by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

  • Publication Date: December 24, 2013
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316217492
  • ISBN-13: 9780316217491