Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 321
First Published: 2010
First Line: "Today, I'm five."

Synopsis: Jack is a five year old boy who is adored by his mom. He's inquisitive, sensitive, loving, smart ... and has never seen the outside world. His world consists of a 11x11 foot room that is equipped with only a bathroom, bed, table and meagre cooking equipment. A skylight and a television are the only ways Jack can view the outside world.

To Jack, Room is his entire world. To his Ma, a 27 year old woman who was abducted at the age of 19 by a mad man, this sound proof shed is her prison. Ma is totally devoted to her son and helps to create as normal of a childhood as possible. Armed with only a few books, her imagination, stories and television she teaches Jack everything she knows. She does this all on her own and for the love of her son.

It's through Jack's eyes and with his voice that Donoghue shows the reader what life is like for a boy whose entire world exists between four walls. A boy who doesn't realize that the outside world exists. We see how Jack uses his imagination, his natural naiveté and what he sees on TV to understand his small world.

My Thoughts: I've had this book in my possession for at least 2 months after my Fairy Bookmother graciously gave me her copy. I'd heard a lot of positive things about ROOM but when I read the cover and learned that the story was about an abducted young woman who has to raise her young son confined to one room I wasn't gung ho to read it. Not the kind of light reading a mom of three wants to typically read ... at least not this mom.

After numerous people kept
hounding me recommending ROOM I finally picked it up -- only to find that Jack's 'voice' really bothered me. I love five year olds they're cool peeps and all but after 20 pages I wasn't sure that I wanted to read an entire story told in the voice and vocab of a kindergartener. The ROOM proponents told me to keep at it. I put the book down because I wasn't in the right frame of mind to keep reading it and I wanted to give ROOM a fair chance. So back on my "To Be Read" shelf it went for a few weeks.

Late last week I picked it up again. I read the initial 20 pages again and kept going ...and going ... and going. I really had a hard time putting the book down! Who knew!?! Ok, all those people hounding me to keep reading ROOM did, but you get my point! After I got used to Jack's dialogue (note it still bothered me but I got used to it) I got immersed into Jack's small world.

The first part of ROOM is a story about strength, ingenuity, love, bravery and the power of imagination. It shows that even when evil lurks everywhere we can still find a way to love and stay true to who we are.

Jack and Ma have created a world all their own. Jack's love for inanimate objects like Plant, Table and Remote is endearing as he includes them as part of his family. To him Room is home and his entire world ... all he knows. To his mother, it's a place of horror that she dreams of escaping from. Jack doesn't understand why Ma would ever want to leave Room. He loves his toilet paper castle, reading his favourite books over and over and looking forward to their Sunday Treat that Old Nick gives them.

The book obviously deals with a horrible situation so I expected some kind of abuse. I didn't realize how hard it would be to read about the abuse Ma suffered through the eyes of her child. At the age of five, Jack doesn't understand the extent of the abuse his mother endures regularly. He only knows that he must be put into the wardrobe each night before Old Nick came to 'squeak the bed' with Ma. It's that kind of innocence that readers will either find horrific or may soften the blow of the abuse because the abuse is alluded to with such innocence. Since Ma sheltered her son from as much of the abuse as she could we the reader only view the abuse according to how Jack experiences it.

SPOILER ALERT (Don't read further if you don't want a big spoiler!) >>>>>>

It's hard to write a review without giving away one of the major things that happens in the book - their escape. I was on the edge of my seat as they made their escape!!! Unfortunately, shortly after their escape is where the story slowed down considerably for me. This part of the book focuses on Ma and Jack being thrown into a media frenzy and aftermath of their ordeal all the while trying to get their bearings in this 'new' world.

The way Jack viewed, described and experienced the Outside was, and this is in no way a negative about Jack, how I'd picture an alien experiencing our world if visiting for the first time. How would it react to a car horn, an escalator, high fiving someone, seeing the seasons change? These are the things that Jack never experienced within Room.

Jack also had to get used to just being a kid. He was so used to his Ma's schedule for eating, sleeping, playing, TV time that the freedom he was given after escaping was terrifying for him. He struggled with so many things that we take for granted. Depth perception, new foods, dealing with other people, playing with other children, sun exposure on his skin and eyes, understanding colloquial expressions (ie "That a boy!" --- of course I'm a boy! or "Give me 5" -- No, I want to keep my fingers for me!). So many things that we deal with daily which became huge obstacles for a five year old boy.

Seeing how Jack experienced the world was interesting but after awhile I wanted the book to pick up the momentum again. The beginning of the book was interesting due to the fact that was got to see Jack's world, the middle exhilarating due to the escape but his introduction into the real world just didn't have as much oomph as I would have liked.

Overall, this was a good read but I do have some things that bothered me. Again, I have to say that the five year old 'dialect' bugged me. It was so disjointed and grammatically off that it almost took away from the book. When I picked up the book the second time I was ready for that kind of 'voice' but I still found it really annoying. It would have been nice to break up the toddler speak with some of Ma's personal observations.

Also, some of Jack's observations seemed a little too mature for a 5 year old to perceive and his vocabulary and understanding seemed to change. At times he's very simplistic (and more age appropriate) but in the next page he's using these huge words and complex ideas that he understands easily. I realize that Ma spent a lot of her time teaching her son as much as she could so maybe it's for that reason that his grammar and vocabulary irked me. If she's teaching him all about animals, plants, math etc ... why not correct his grammar? Or am I being too picky here?

Overall, I enjoyed this read which surprised me due to its topic. I found it original, thought provoking, touching, at times scary and inspiring. It's seeing the kidnapping and confinement through the eyes of a child which makes this book stand out.

ROOM was a hard book to read for the disturbing images it put into my mind but it is also the story that focuses on the innocent spirit of children. It's a story of Ma's loss of her freedom and family but it's also a story of her resilience and love for her son. It's a story that shows the stark contrast between the world's darkest side of humanity while, at the same time, showing us the most innocent, compassionate side.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


April from Comox, BC said...

Hmmm...not sure about the concept, and probably would have skipped this one had I just come across it on my own. But your review makes me want to give it a try. I'll have to add it to my own "To be Read" list!

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

April - let me know what you think of it once you read it. This book review took me almost 2 hours to write. It is, by far, the hardest review I've done!

Eating Deliciously said...

Love your blog and the combination of food and book reviews. Two of my favorite things! I have added this book to my must read list.

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