Room by Emma Donoghue

9 Aug

This book was recommended to me by my 22 year old daughter.  I admit I had some trouble getting into it at first.  I’ll also admit I knew absolutely nothing about the story so I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure where anything was going.  I usually like a little summary of a book before I dive in, but most reviews tend to give too much of the story away, so I tend to stay away.  Having said that, a little history on this book would have been helpful for me.  

Because the story is so unique, I’m going to write my review in two parts.  If you’re like me and don’t want the story spelled out (read ruined) for you, read just Review #1.  If you’re okay with knowing more of the storyline and details, feel free to read Review #2 as well.  I’m an equal opportunity reviewer (smile).


Review #1

The first paragraph begins… “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?”

The story is told from the perspective of five year old Jack.  It’s not easy to read at first, it took me some time to get used to the way he speaks, but once I got into the story, I could visualize Jack, Room, Ma and their daily lifestyle.  That made it much easier.  This is where a little background on the book would have been helpful.

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. His day is spent utilizing the few things they have, singing songs hearing stories his Ma remembers and enjoying the five picture books he’s had read to him over and over.

Room is where Jack was born.  It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. It’s the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to create a normal life for her son.  Room is an 11×11’ space. 

Donoghue has done an amazing job of letting us think like an isolated, innocent boy whose life is turned upside down when he learns that Outside of Room is a big world. Up until his 5th birthday, his world was balanced, controlled and he missed nothing since he didn’t know of anything else. Everything beyond Room was Outer Space. Once he was told there was so much more out there, fear of the unknown crept into his world.

Having a child narrate the book is very clever in many ways. Jack is oblivious to the heroic efforts his mother makes to protect and entertain him, but these definitely don’t go unnoticed by the reader.

This is one of those books that sucks you into its world and makes you reconsider your own. It’s a quick read that’s highly absorbing. I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child’s needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing.

Okay, spoiler alert… if you’re not interested in the more detailed storyline, stop reading here.   Otherwise, scroll down.

Review #2
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held hostage for seven long years. After being kidnapped as a teenager, she’s forced to live her life in the confines of this space and endure the nightly unwelcome visits of her captor. 

The sense of dread builds as Jack reports on his daily life in Room. The reader, who is smarter than a five year old, begins to understand the severity of the situation. The suspense builds beautifully and the pages keep turning.

Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this 11×11’ space. With Jack’s curiosity building, together with her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer and she sets forth devising a plan for life on the Outside.

When their isolated and intensely private world suddenly reaches beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are unexpected and extraordinary at the same time. Despite its sad and disturbing premise, Room is filled with moments of hope and beauty, and the steadfast determination to live, even in the most bleak of circumstances. A dramatic story of survival in captivity; readers who enter Roomwill leave shaken and amazed, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.  

Emma Donoghue builds a story of familial love and support that alternately both breaks and warms the reader’s heart. When the scene shifts, what happens “After” is as interesting, suspenseful and touching as what happened in Room.

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