Book Review: ROOM by Emma Donoghue

Writing a review for Emma Donoghue‘s Room is a tricky thing since I wholeheartedly want you to read it but the less you know about the plot, the better. It’s told from the point of view of a 5-year-old named Jack and right away, you understand you’ve entered an unusual world but aren’t sure what’s going on. The dawning realization of Jack and his mother’s situation packs a huge emotional wallop I don’t want to spoil for you. Is it enough to say this book made me weep openly at times in public? That it haunts me and is unlike anything I’ve read in the last several years? How about the fact it’s been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize?

If you need more, I’ll give a brief description but must reiterate that your reading experience will be more powerful if you just pick up the book and jump in. The suspense factor is much higher when you don’t know where events are headed.


Jack was born in a windowless 11-by-11-foot room and has spent his entire life there. That’s because his mother, known only as Ma, has been held captive for the last seven years. Ma tries to give Jack as normal a life as she can, teaching him songs and how to read. She also tells him that things like trees and animals and cars only exist on another planet so he doesn’t long for them. But soon after Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma realizes she can’t raise him in confinement forever and forms an awful, desperate plan for escape. Though the author said the idea for Room was “triggered by” the real-life case of Josef Fritzl, the book made me think of Jaycee Dugard and how this story could have been told by one of her children.


Donoghue took a big risk writing in Jack’s voice but she handled it beautifully. The story is so disturbing, I’m not sure I could’ve handled it from Ma’s point of view. Jack leaves out information about things he doesn’t understand; our filling in the blanks is horrific enough. He has a unique perspective about the world but still behaves like a “normal” five-year-old in many ways. He’s not too cutesy or precocious; he feels real to me. His innocence moved me so much I sometimes didn’t know if I should laugh or cry and often did both at the same time.

Ma is also heartrending in her courage and fierce love for Jack. Here’s a woman who doesn’t waste time on self-pity, instead focusing all her energy on how she can protect her son. Ma and Jack’s resilience is what makes this book ultimately uplifting and one you won’t soon forget.

Nerd verdict: Make room for Room

Buy Room from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound



  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    September 7, 2010 at 6:05 am

    Yes, I need to read this one. Fine review, PCN.

  • Reply
    Coffee and a Book Chick
    September 7, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I need to pick this one up — it’s now made the shortlist, so I can’t wait!!

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    September 7, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Naomi—Thanks. I hope it moves you as much as it did me.

    Natalie—I’m SO happy about it making the shortlist! I’m rooting for it to go all the way.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Okay, I’m in. I keep sneaking peeks at the synopsis and need to stop!!!! I need something fabulous to read; I cannot settle into anything right now as I just finished all three Tana French books and everything I pick up is falling short in comparison. Starting with “In The Woods” (which I won in your contest) I was enamored with and envious of her words. She writes so beautifully it makes me ache with longing to have her ability. Does that ever happen to you? When you finish something you truly love, do you find it difficult to move into something else?

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      September 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      After I finished Room, it took me a while before I could read something else. Jack’s voice stayed with me and the books I picked up afterward felt so…ordinary. I was also really moved and wanted to sit with that feeling for a few days.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed Tana French’s novels. I’m still reading In the Woods and liking it but keep getting distracted by new releases.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    September 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Sorry, I tried not to look at your synopsis but couldn’t help myself. Though it sounds painful, it also sounds like one of those books that inspires and helps us to count our blessings, and it’s going straight onto The List. Thanks for your review of this one, PCN.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      September 8, 2010 at 10:22 am

      If peeking at the synopsis convinced you to read this book, that’s fine by me! Not only does it inspire, it entertains, too. There are lighter scenes among the tough ones.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Such an unusual review, PCN, but you’ve convinced me. I didn’t read the synopsis and will go straight to reading the book! Sounds intriguing.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      September 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

      Oh good! I did it like that–went straight to reading without knowing too much (I’d purposefully avoided all the early buzz). Quite a kick in the chest when I realized what was happening. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    September 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I keep hearing about this book. I’m almost afraid to read it.

  • Reply
    September 13, 2010 at 6:40 am

    I’m dying to read this thanks for tempting me more!

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