Monday, 2 December 2013

review: Roomies

by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr
Little, Brown BFYR, December 24 2013
young adult contemporary
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)

It's the end of their last high school year, and Elizabeth and Lauren are going to be roomates at Berkeley in California in the fall. The start of their cross-cuntry email exchange coincides with the start of a summer that will be momentous for both.
The cover:

The pink and green work exceedingly well together (they're much softer in real life than this image makes them seem), and the casual line-drawn illustration style will likely have a wide appeal. Safe choice in the sans serif font, too, with the tagline in a contrasting cursive font.

The book:

Roomies is the type of novel that stumps all my efforts to write a professional, at least semi-objective review. This book has all the ingredients for a heartwarming and potentially thoughtful contemporary bildungsroman, but somehow it left me feeling vaguely unsettled and disappointed.

Perhaps it's the very fact that the book contains all the typical ingredients. With two co-authors exchanging very brief, quick chapters, it's difficult to get any sense of style to distinguish the story from a generic YA contemp. The same goes for the voice of our two protagonists, and it's easy to confuse Elizabeth's and Lauren's lives.

On top of the neutral narration, the dual cast ends up flattening the secondary characters until they hover between one- and two-dimensional. Elizabeth's relationship with her mother has a tonne of potential to show growth in both characters, but the limited pagetime in this short novel doesn't allow for both her mother and her best friends to develop. This also means that Elizabeth's and Lauren's new boyfriends seem a little too perfect, with not nearly enough chemistry. Keyon may be a stand-out, though:
Outside, the air cools my face and I try to sort through the last 20 minutes. When Keyon comes out, he asks quietly, "Why say you're okay when you're not okay?" (p.189)
As with most YA contemps, the plot is driven mostly by character interactions and the consequences that derive from them. The pace is brisk as Lauren and Elizabeth jump from character to character, so Roomies doesn't drag, at least. It's also lightly sprinkled with humorous and feel-good moments, perhaps enough to satisfy the casual reader.

But for me, the connection with the characters was never there, never strong enough to overcome the inevtiably differences to make this story relatable. (People surf in New Jersey? White people are really more comfortable dealing with gay people rather than black people in San Francisco? Girls really feel the need to call each other "bitch" after five minutes' acquaintance? Really?)

Anyway, personally, Roomies wasn't a good fit for me. I will reserve judgement before saying "not recommended" to anyone else.

Ethnic balance: 2.5 out of 5. Good job for trying, I guess.

Rating: 2.4 out of 5