Roomies: Share your roomie stories… plus, a giveaway!

RoomiesBack in December, I posted my review of the wonderful new novel Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Roomies is funny, touching, surprising, and feels just so real… and now you get a chance to win a copy!

We all have a roomie story, right? Whether good or bad — or truly the roommate from hell — it seems like nothing is quite so memorable as trying to live with a randomly assigned stranger.

For me, my freshman roommate is a distant memory, someone I never saw again after we moved out of our teeny, tiny dorm room at the end of the year. I wrote a little bit about her already in my Roomies review, but here are a couple more nightmarish moments from my early college days:

  • Joanne was a super thin and very stylish girl who dreamed of becoming a model. And yet, despite being tiny, she insisted on buying jeans that were a size smaller than what she needed. One day I came back to the room to grab a textbook and she yelled, “Wait! I need your help!” She then lay down on my bed, since the zipper of her super-tight jeans would only budge if she was horizontal, and begged me to zip her jeans for her.
  • Joanne attracted boys like a magnet… and collected them as well. In each of her classes, she would zero in on some ultra-smart boy, flirt enough to get him interested, and then keep them around like her own personal puppy dog. We had a non-stop stream of nerdy boys who would show up in our room whenever Joanne needed help with studying or an assignment — her own private army of personal tutors/devoted slaves.
  • Joanne used our landline phone to call her boyfriend long-distance at all hours of the night or day… and then when the phone bill came, said she couldn’t afford her share, refused to ask her father (a cardiologist) for money because he’d yell at her, and then blamed me when our phone service got cut off because I wouldn’t pay her bill.

Those are my top roomie-from-hell stories. Fortunately, after freshman year, I moved in with the best bunch of people ever and made life-long friends who I’ll love forever! Don’t you love a happy ending?


Little, Brown is offering a copy of Roomies to one lucky winner (US residents only). Just click on the link to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

AND, by offering this giveaway, I’m entered in a “Win One for You and Your Reader” sweepstakes! The prize is a Roomie survival kit/gift pack including earplugs, home spa essentials, a signed copy of the book, a special note from the authors, and other fun things—all packed in a shower caddy— one for me and one for one of my blog readers. Sounds amazing, right? Wish us all good luck!

Be sure to check out Sara and Tara’s appearances on their book tour starting next week:

  • January 12, 2014 – New York, NY: McNally Jackson [venue link]
  • January 15, 2014 – Salt Lake City, UT: The King’s English [venue link]
  • January 16, 2014 – Provo, UT: Provo Library [venue link]
  • February 4, 2014 – San Francisco, CA: Books Inc, Opera Plaza [venue link]
  • February 5, 2015 – Petaluma, CA: Copperfield’s Books [venue link]

What’s your best or worst roomie story? Share your tales of woe or joy in the comments!

The Monday Agenda 12/16/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

RoomiesGathering StormThe Firebird (Slains, #2)

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando: Done! My review is here.

Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig: Done! Historical fiction set in Scotland in 1743 — not as “romance-y” as it looks. I’ll have a review posted a bit later in the week.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley: Just started — but I’m so excited to finally be reading this one!

Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear: My son and I are about 80 pages into this science fiction novel, which is a follow-up to the 1912 novel The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The early chapters were a bit confusing for both of us, but now the action in Dinosaur Summer is picking up and we’re having a slightly easier time with it. The jury is still out in terms of whether this will ultimately be an enjoyable choice for the kiddo and me — but we’re hanging in there!

Fresh Catch:

No new paper-and-ink books this week — which is a relief, since I’m about to be drowned by my TBR piles! I did pick up a few Kindle titles, taking advantage of holiday season price drops:

The LuminariesThe GoldfinchThe Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)After the Golden Age (Golden Age, #1)

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

The Firebird (Slains, #2)Dear Mr. KnightleyThe Promise of Amazing

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley: I’ve only just begun… so I expect this novel will take up most of my reading time this week.

BUT… if I’m able, then I’ll plan to start two ARCs that are in my queue for December:

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherin Reay

The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.


Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando


Before I dig into my review of Roomies, a personal aside. And if you’re not interested in my rambling thoughts of yesteryear, jump ahead two paragraphs! Really, I won’t mind.

It seems like eons ago that I received my freshman roommate assignment from campus housing, way back when as I was graduating from high school and looking forward to the next chapter in my life. My roomie-to-be had a name that made me think of someone upbeat and friendly: Juliet, from somewhere in Pennsylvania. We exchanged brief letters (I found out she preferred to go by Julie), and it seemed like we’d hit it off, or at the very least, like each other enough to live together successfully.

But then, a few weeks later, another letter: Julie and her friend from home had decided to live together after all. Bummer. I was then assigned a new roommate, Joanne from Brooklyn, daughter of a cardiologist, who spent most of her initial letter to me telling me all about her boyfriend Henry (but call him Henri), who was gorgeous and a model. Uh oh. Alarm bells ringing. And for good reason: the term “roommate from hell” could have been coined especially for Joanne. I won’t bore you with the agony of a year’s worth of horrible incidents. And to add insult to injury, I later met my almost-roommate Julie in chemistry class, and she was sweet as could be. Meanwhile, the best thing I can say about Joanne is that she was so despicable that I spent almost zero time in my dorm room, which led to my becoming close with someone in the next dorm, who in turn introduced me to another of her friends… and those two became lifelong friends of mine. So, happy outcome, I suppose, but still… drama! Freshman year turmoil! Dorm dismay!

It’s been a long time since I thought about the saga of Julie and Joanne — but it all came back to me in vivid color as soon as I started reading Roomies.

In this delightful new young adult novel, two girls from opposite worlds meet through the magic of the UC Berkeley housing office. Over the course of the summer between high school and college, Elizabeth and Lauren get to know each other through emails, exchanging greetings tentatively at first and slowly building up trust and connection until they’re practically soulmates — but is it real? How much can you really get to know someone by way of a computer screen? How do you know what someone’s like if you’ve never met them, never even heard their voice?

From the outset, the girls seem too dissimilar to seem likely as friends. Elizabeth is a middle class girl from New Jersey, who loves the beach, loves gardening, has a boyfriend she’s not crazy about, and has lived alone with her mom ever since her dad came out and moved (stereotype of stereotypes) to San Francisco. Now EB, as she’s known to her friends, is left counting the days until she sets off on her big move cross-country, dealing with her unable-to-face-reality mom and wishing she weren’t so alone. Lauren, on the other hand, is never alone. Lauren has five younger siblings, all under the age of six, and this huge mess of a family lives in a cramped house in San Francisco, always tight on money, always chaotic. Lauren works two jobs and got a full scholarship to Berkeley to study biochem, and dreams of having quiet time to herself. She did not want a roommate at all, and is not best pleased to hear from EB (whom she thinks of as Ebb) with a “hi, roomie!” email.

Told in alternating chapters and with alternating voices, Roomies takes us along for the ride as Lauren and Elizabeth slowly open up to one another while dealing with the myriad of challenges, frustrations, joys, and sorrows of the eventful summer between high school and college. Both girls navigate a relationship with a hometown best friend, unsure of how that friendship will change or even if it will last. And both girls find romance when least expected, only further complicating the delicate and difficult business of saying good-bye to home and childhood and moving into the next phase of their lives.

The summer navigated in Roomies is wonderful in many ways, but each girl faces her own set of worries and doubts as the college days loom. Will she be able to stand on her own feet? Will the family left behind manage without her? How will she know she’s ready? And what if she’s not?

He leads me out the other side of the house, and there is something about his pulling me forward that feels so incredible. Because I wish that I were being guided a bit more through life, that I didn’t always feel as if I were drifting, like an untied balloon that someone didn’t even realize was slipping away.

The writing is terrific and genuine. I was completely convinced that I was getting to know two very different girls, and I appreciated how the authors made each voice unique and recognizable. Using the motif of first-person narration punctuated by emails, each chapter gives us a view into the girls’ inner lives and deepest thoughts. The email is a brilliant device for showing just how easy it is to misunderstand, and how imperfect a medium the written word can be. Throughout the summer, each girl misinterprets the emails of the other, so as they take baby steps forward in their relationship, a simple phrase or comment can start a chain reaction of anger or hurt. How could she say that? Why would she rub her happiness in my face? Why doesn’t she sympathize? Why is it all about her? Each girl writes with the best of intentions, but as the move-in date nears, their communication spirals out of control, with hurt layered upon hurt, until each is left to contemplate requesting a rooming reassignment before they even get to Berkeley.

Little details really work. While Lauren and Elizabeth each embark on a new and exciting romance, this isn’t a glossy, fake ultra-swoony story. Even in the midst of describing a romantic moment, we’re reminded that teen moments are often snuck into the most awkward of places:

I snuggle against Keyon, with the emergency brake in my lower ribs, and we’re quiet a long time.

Sweet? Yes. Kind of uncomfortable, too, and isn’t that how it usually works?

Lauren and Elizabeth each work through their personal baggage, their family issues, their expectations, their fears. They correspond, they fight, they reconcile, and by the end of the summer, it’s time. Time to leave home, time to figure out to to hold on while at the same time marching forward. There’s a lovely moment that really encapsulates the conflicting urges to stay where it’s comfortable and familiar and to rush forward into a new exciting chapter:

…[W]e go to a booth for tickets, queue up with some others, and then find two swings side by side, close enough where we can hold hands. I kick off my flip-flops and in a minute we’re spinning. We start slowly, going round and round, but I can feel it, somewhere deep in my gut, when some new force starts to propel us out into the sky. Mark and I hold hands as long as we can but then the force is too strong and he laughs and I scream and we have no choice but to let go.

Roomies succeeds on so many levels — as a story of the beginning of a friendship, a look at family and all the different types of bonds that can exist, and an exploration of that big step from childhood to adulthood. Anyone who has ever left home to embark on a new adventure will be able to relate to the mingled excitement and fear. I’d consider this a great book for young adults approaching their own journeys, as well as for adults who made that transition themselves, whether recently or far in the past — or even from the perspective of a parent trying to support their own children as they find their way.

For myself, reading Roomies made me think of my own semi-disastrous entry into my college life — and remember how even the worst of situations ultimately led to incredibly wonderful experiences. Seeing Lauren and Elizabeth and their messy, sometimes awful and sometimes spectacular journey, I wanted to tell them to just hang in there. It’s all a part of growing up, and as Roomies illustrates so well, endings and beginnings can both contain truly amazing moments.


The details:

Title: Roomies
Author: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: To be released December 24, 2013
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of Little, Brown via NetGalley

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday

Nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week, I’m excited about an upcoming YA release:


Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
(release date December 24, 2013)


The countdown to college has begun.

When Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment at the beginning of summer, she shoots off an email to coordinate the basics: TV, microwave, mini-fridge. She can’t wait to escape her New Jersey beach town, and her mom, and start life over in California.
The first note to Lauren in San Francisco comes as a surprise; she had requested a single. But if Lauren’s learned anything from being the oldest of six, it’s that you can’t always get what you want, especially when what you want is privacy.
Soon the girls are emailing back and forth, sharing secrets even though they’ve never met. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives…and each other.
With humor and heart, Sara Zarr, National Book Award finalist for Story of a Girl, and Tara Altebrando, acclaimed author of The Pursuit of Happiness, join forces for a novel about that time after high school, when everything feels like it’s ending just as it’s beginning.

This sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Freshman year of college is such a major transitional time, and it’s always interesting to me to see how it’s portrayed in fiction. (Recent great examples include Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Just One Day by Gayle Forman).

True confession time: My freshman roommate experience was NOT a good one — so maybe it’s time to read about one that starts off on a more positive note!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!