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Room by Emma Donoghue

January 10, 2011

I was a bit leery about reading Room. The novel is told from the point of view of a five year old boy who has lived his entire life in a room where, unknown to him, he and his mother are being held captive by a man he calls “Old Nick.” I thought the premise sounded interesting and unusual, but I was afraid it would turn cheesy or sentimental or perhaps even be too creepy. I ended up really liking the book, even if only because it kept me up late reading, waiting to see what would happen next.

The first half of Room focuses on Jack and Ma and their day to day routine inside the room, which is actually a work shed in the back of Old Nick’s house. Ma has gone to great lengths to keep her and Jack entertained, healthy and relatively sane. They make a snake out of eggshells; the play games like parrot where Jack repeats back sentences heard on TV; they run around the “track” and choose “phys ed” games to play. I kind of pictured Emma Donoghue brainstorming random things you might do to entertain yourself while shut up in a 11×11 foot room with a small child. Doug over at THWOK! describes Ma as “a walking subscription to Highlights For Children.” HAHAHA

But even I was getting a little sick of the day to day activities happening in the shed and was beginning to wonder when they were going to make a break for it because if they stayed in that room one chapter longer I was going to scream.

So, obviously, they craft an escape plan and the second half of the book focuses on the pair trying to readjust to the world outside. Ma is happy to be free, take a real shower and see her family but also struggles with readjusting, the media attention and working through the ordeal. Jack is completely overwhelmed by the outside world and pretty much just wants to go back to Room. From Room to the Great Escape, from media interviews, to psychologist couches and the playground, I was always interested in what would happen next to Jack and Ma.

Room wasn’t overly sentimental as I feared, but of course reading from a five year old’s view point (kids aren’t really my favorite) at some points drove me nuts. Jack is smart and can read but apparently can’t figure out the basics of sentence structure and pronouns. And he’s a bit obnoxious at times. I also found some of the religious points – like how Jack thinks the sun is God and they thank Baby Jesus for pretty much everything – to be kind of ridiculous. You’re locked in a room by a lunatic rapist and you’re thanking Baby Jesus for the cereal he brings you? I find it bizarre.

But, all in all, I would definitely recommend this book – it’s a quick read, it’s entertaining and you’ve probably never read something similar.

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