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by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando


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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.

That first message comes as a surprise to Lauren in San Francisco; 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 e-mailing back and forth, sharing secrets even though they've never met. With childhood friendships and family relationships 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316217507
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 06/16/2015
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 438,273
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Sara Zarr was raised in San Francisco, California, and now lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the author of The Lucy Variations, How to Save a Life, What We Lost, Sweethearts, and the National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl. Her website is

Tara Altebrando is an author of books for adults and teens, including The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life, Dreamland Social Club, What Happens Here and The Pursuit of Happiness. She lives with her family in Queens, New York. Her website is

Read an Excerpt


By Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2013 Sara Zarr Tara Altebrando
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-21749-1



Sometimes there are signs. Or things I can't help but interpret as signs. Maybe from fate or the universe or God, if there is one. Or maybe from the grandmother I barely knew but who I've always been told is in heaven.

Watching and judging.

Like Santa.

There are just times when it really feels like someone or something is paying attention. Even to little old me. And right now he or she or it is looking down on me lying on my bed, where I am seething because of a five-minutes-ago fight with my mother about how I am going to spend this, my last summer at home before college. I have plans to meet my friends at the beach tomorrow and she thinks I should be ... well, she doesn't even know what she wants me to be doing instead. Here's a hint: It is probably the exact opposite of whatever I want to be doing at any given moment.

I seriously only graduated last week. The cap and gown are still hanging right there on the back of my bedroom door.

Someone, some power, must see me gripping the bedspread beneath my fingers and he (or she or it) must feel some kind of pity for me because he (or she or it) takes it upon himself (or herself or itself) to trigger someone on the opposite coast, someone named Helen Blake, who works in Student Housing at UC Berkeley, to sit down at her computer and type in my e-mail address and send me a message that makes my phone buzz on the bed next to me and that helps me to calm down, and to release the bedspread, and to remember that nothing, not even living with your mother, is forever, though it mostly feels that way.

Dear Elizabeth Logan, it says. I am pleased to provide you with your dorm room assignment and contact information for your roommate this coming school year. While it is by no means mandatory for you to get in touch, some students find that there are practical issues they would like to discuss before orientation week.

Below the dorm info is a name—Lauren Cole—a snail mail address in San Francisco, an e-mail address, and a phone number. It is enough to make me spring up off the bed and rush to my desk. There is a light, gritty layer of dust on my open laptop's keyboard; I haven't used it since school ended but something about sending e-mail from it—instead of from my phone—feels more official, more serious.

I am nothing if not officially serious about going away to school.

So I type in this Lauren's address—calling seems crazy—and I put Hi Roomie! as the subject; then I think for a second that I have no idea what to say, but it turns out I do.

Dear Lauren,

You don't know me but I got an e-mail from Berkeley telling me that we're going to be roommates. I am so excited to "meet" you! I've been waiting and waiting. Since I'm moving to California from New Jersey, I'm not bringing that much stuff at all—only what I can fit in two suitcases. Maybe I'll ship stuff? I'll probably pack a hundred times in the next 65 days (not like I'm counting, ha ha), so I can be sure everything I want to bring will fit. My mother says she'll give me money for a mini-fridge or microwave. Are you already planning on bringing either of those?

I think about wrapping it up but I am really just getting going so I don't stop. Not yet. I rub my fingers together to get rid of some dust, then dig in again.

I'm so jealous that you live in San Francisco. You must really like it if you're staying close for college. It's cool that you're going to live in the dorms. I swear I've been wanting to go away to college ever since I found out it was possible to do that. It's all I think about lately. Getting out of this place.

I should stop now. No one sends e-mails this long. But as it turns out I am not quite done with the stuff that needs to come off my chest so that I can maybe breathe again, so that I can maybe survive the summer and the move to the land of the Man Who Left, otherwise known as Dad.

This may sound crazy but I've never been to California—even though my father moved to San Francisco a bunch of years ago. I haven't seen him since I was pretty little, and I never talk to him, so it's not like that's the reason I picked Berkeley. Anyway, I promise not to be too annoyingly touristy or anything.

I'm babbling. So yeah. Let me know about the microwave/fridge situation.

Elizabeth (but everyone calls me EB) Logan

I send it before the feeling of release turns sour. Then I head over to Facebook and search for Lauren Cole. Turns out there are a couple of fan pages for famous Lauren Coles I've never heard of. And one at the University of Florida, but none that looks like she might be my roommate, a fact I find depressing. Who isn't on Facebook?


It's a rare quiet moment in the house. When I say rare, I'm using it in the real sense of the word: rare like a meteor shower, rare like a white tiger, like a double yolk or a red diamond. Rare as in I use up about a third of this precious silence trying to remember when it last was. Silent. For another fifteen minutes I try to decide how not to waste it. I have the day off from both my jobs. Should I take a nap? Hook my iPod up to the living room stereo and blast it? Make a deluxe quesadilla, which, for a change, I wouldn't have to share?

I opt for a combination of stereo takeover and nap, putting on a mellow playlist at a soothing volume and stretching out on the floor—with a blanket under me so as to avoid Cheerio dust. Finally and blissfully, I'm alone. It isn't long before I make the muscle-twitching, gape-mouthed descent into sleep. After what seems like about ninety seconds, I become aware of the sound of the van idling outside.

Already? No. No.

Sometimes in the moments surrounding REM sleep, you hear things that aren't really there. I forbid my eyes to open. But there's the sound of the van door sliding on its track. (Note that I did not say minivan.) My mother's voice. The babbling of P.J.; the cry of Francis; Jack and Marcus fighting. For some reason I don't hear Gertie out there. Soon enough that reason becomes apparent.

"Why are you on the floor?"

Gertie plops onto my stomach. Oof. "Because I like the floor," I say.


"Because I said so."

"Why are your eyes closed?"

"Because it makes the room nice and dark."

She touches each of my eyelids gently, and I feel her weight shift as she leans over my face, expelling her soft grape-juice-and-baby-carrot breath. She pets my hair and I hope to God she hasn't been picking her nose. "Are you dead?" she asks in a dramatic whisper.


Gertie is absolutely still for a count of three; then she bounces on my stomach and I'm forced to open my eyes and roll over to get her off me. "No you're not! No you're not!" She laughs like a maniac. "Mama says come help."

The next chance I have to think is five hours later, after Dad's come home, after we've gotten through the ordeal that is dinner, after baths and toothbrushing and all the bargaining and coercion and threat-making that help those things happen, and after Francis is down but the rest of them are living up the twenty minutes before story time and, at last, lights-out.

It's the first opportunity I've had to look at my e-mail in three days. There are two screens of new messages, mostly spam. As I sort through it, I find some stuff from my best friend, Zoe—links to videos and sites I'll probably never have time to look at—and a message from my dad. He sends these one- or two-sentence notes from work when he's bored or thinking of me. This says, Garfield has been violated. Investigating. There's a picture attached of the mug I gave him when I was in first grade. It's got a big lipstick print on the rim. I write back: That is a bold red. Inquire among VIPs.

On the third screen, the page of oldest messages, there are a few from Berkeley. One of them has to be about my housing request. I'll save those to open last; I'm too nervous now. I go back to the first screen to start clicking off the spam and find a message I didn't notice the first time. The subject line is Hi Roomie! and I almost junk it for porn, but when I see the preview of the first line, a chill comes over me.

I open and read it through.

Then I frantically click over to the Berkeley messages and find the one telling me about my roommate.

So it's true. My request has been denied. "Crap," I mutter.

"Can I play Dora?" It's Gertie.

I minimize the window—I'm not sure why; it's not like Gertie cares about my e-mail or can understand what she's seeing. She breathes down my neck, her sticky hand already leaving a mark on my desk, which I've just cleaned for what feels like the tenth time today, making use of the industrial-size tub of Clorox Wipes I pay for with my own money. "No," I say. "Can you go ... occupy yourself or something?"

I try not to sound mean. I'm already in trouble for being "mean" to Jack, even though he's the one who completely spilled cranberry juice all over my favorite sweater, at some point between the interruption of my nap and dinner. I'd saved up for like a month to buy that sweater. I yelled at Jack and called him a moron, and when Mom found me and said, "He's six, Lauren. He didn't do it out of malice," what came out of my mouth was "I wish I were an only child." And Mom gave me that look she has and walked out, reminding me to apologize to Jack before dinner. At which point he didn't care anymore, having moved on to the crucial task of making sure his various food groups didn't touch.

So even though I want to physically toss Gertie out of my room, I don't. Because actually it's not my room. It's our room—I share it with Gertie and P.J., my sisters. Jack and Marcus are down the hall. Francis still sleeps in my parents' room in the bassinet.

"Here," I say to Gertie, getting up and pulling my old Mr. Potato Head down from the high shelf in the closet. Her brown eyes widen. I rarely let her touch Mr. Potato Head. Grandpa Cole gave him to me, and all the pieces are there and the box is still in good shape. Mr. Potato Head has sentimental value, so he's one of the few things I'm not forced to share. "You have to play with this in here. Sit on the bed and be quiet, okay? It's almost lights-out."

She nods, probably afraid that if she says anything else I'll change my mind.

I get back to the e-mail.

This is what I want to write:

Dear EB,

(Already I'm calling her Ebb in my head, even though I'm sure that what she means by EB is Eee Bee.)

I requested a single. All I've wanted for the last decade is a room of my own. Some privacy. A place to be alone with my thoughts where they are not constantly interrupted by someone else making some kind of racket, or even someone else just quietly trying to exist in the same space as me. When I got the full scholarship I knew it would probably be pressing my luck to ask for a single, but the box was there to check so I checked it. A "roomie" is really not what I had in mind. Really not what I had in mind at all.

Of course, I don't write any of that. It's not Ebb's fault my parents wanted a big family.

Dear EB,

Hey. I hadn't really thought about appliances.

(Where am I supposed to get the money for this stuff? My magic money tree? I can probably find a decent microwave at Goodwill if I look every couple of days. Mini-fridges are harder to come by.)

Why don't you do the fridge part and I'll take care of the microwave.

San Francisco is okay. We live in a foggy neighborhood on the south side of the park so it's not like we have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars going by or anything. Only the smelly old Muni trains.

I reread her e-mail. I feel as though it would be polite to acknowledge what she said about her dad, or about New Jersey, or ask a question, or something, but P.J. runs in and lunges for Mr. Potato Head so I wrap it up.

Nice to meet you.

Lauren Cole

"'Tato head!" P.J. shrieks. I scan the e-mail one more time and I know it looks kind of rudely abrupt, but I have to save Mr. Potato Head. And anyway, I wanted a single.

I click Send, close my laptop, and put it up on the high shelf. Gertie lets out a dolphin-pitched death scream and when I turn around, P.J. has got one of Mr. P.'s ears and is about to run away with it. I grab her by the waist. She screams. Gertie screams.

If Mr. P.'s mouth were attached, he would probably scream, too.


That's it? was what I thought when I first read Lauren's e-mail late last night. And now that I'm reading it aloud to my friends, Justine twists her face into a grimace and says, "That's it?" Even though the end of the school year was a little bit strained, Justine and I have been friends for so long that it sometimes feels like we can read each other's minds.

I toss my phone down onto the beach blanket in front of me. "That's all she wrote, as they say."

Justine and Morgan—a newer friend of ours, mostly from senior year—are trying to get me on a strict early-morning beachgoing schedule between now and when I leave for Berkeley, so as to maximize surfing and time together. We're coated in sunscreen and sitting in chairs under umbrellas, reading articles in shiny teen magazines about things like dorm decor and tips for living on your own for the first time, while Alex, Danny, and Mitch surf. Justine tosses her magazine onto our blanket before saying, "Maybe she was busy. You know. Dashed it off without thinking."

I shoot her a look that says, Come on.

"Well, I tried." She turns to face the water and I see a smile form at the corners of her mouth. "What's her e-mail address, Ice Queen at condescending- mail-dot-com?"

Morgan lets out a chuckle but doesn't look up from her mag.

I say, "That's more like it," and look back at the article I've been reading about the Top Ten Things to Pack for College. A pillow. Headphones. Flip-flops for the shower ...

I wish I could pack a few friends.

"I wouldn't worry about it." Morgan holds her magazine out to me but I'm not ready to trade so she tosses hers onto the blanket, too. "You'll find some super-dorky shrubbery major like yourself and you'll barely be in your room anyway. You'll be too busy planting bushes."

"It's not called shrubbery," I say for the gazillionth time.

"You know she's just messing with you." Justine flashes a smile at Morgan, who returns it.

I let it go. But there's a part of me that's still annoyed that my friends don't get it. That no one in the whole of Point Pleasant gets it, except for Tim at Beech Design—and even he looked at me like I had two heads when I walked up to him while he was working on the Schroeders' backyard last summer and told him, with six-month-old Vivian Schroeder on my hip, that I wanted a job. He said he couldn't pay me and I said I didn't care—that I'd keep my babysitting job to make the money I needed. So he told me to come in the next morning to talk about hours. I'd been watching him and his small staff for weeks—carving up that yard and putting it back together again so that it felt like there were rooms outside, places worth being. I knew I'd found my calling. I'll be a paid full-time employee this summer starting Friday, and I still babysit for Vivian occasionally at night.

"I've never understood why you have to go all the way to California when there's a great program at Rutgers," Justine says. "Plus, I'll be there."

"We've been through this," I say, thinking, Yes, you'll be there, and Danny and Alex and everyone else we know, except for Morgan, who'll be a short drive away at NJIT, and Mitch, who's going to Seton Hall. "Too close to the mother ship."

"So you say." Justine gets up and grabs her board.

Morgan gets up, too. "Coming in?"


Excerpted from Roomies by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando. Copyright © 2013 Sara Zarr Tara Altebrando. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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