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