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Room by Emma Donoghue

“Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days.” - Audrey Niffenneger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife)


Powerful and riveting, this dynamic book will immediately grab you. Drawn from today’s headlines - the story of the Fritzl family in Austria in 2008 was the inspiration - Room explores, in a thoroughly unique way, the bizarre and frightening concept of a child in this modern world born and raised in captivity.

Through the innocent and unsentimental eyes of fun-loving Jack, a 5-year-old boy who lives in Room with his Ma, we slowly learn that Ma was kidnapped as a young college girl by someone called Old Nick. She was imprisoned in a fortress-like room where Jack was born. He has never been outside so all the physical features of Room such as Bed, Stove, Wardrobe and TV become the focus of his existence. In fact, in an effort to help him cope, Jack has been told by Ma that everything he sees on TV is a fantasy world and Room is the only real world. When Jack finally finds out otherwise, we share in his shock, disbelief and anger.

Ma is an intelligent young woman with determination and innate mothering skills. Her love for Jack and her ability to fill Room with fun, games, exercise and learning are remarkable. Ma frequently does “flashing” at night which involves flashing the light methodically at the small skylight in the ceiling. Though Jack sometimes gets annoyed by this, we understand that Ma is hoping to alert the outside world of their existence.

Even though we don’t really get to know Old Nick, the captor, it is singularly intriguing that he is not completely evil. Though he makes frequent nocturnal visits, he supplies them with food and sometimes brings special items that Ma and Jack have requested. He even reluctantly brings “Sundaytreats” so Room has some books, food, games, medicine and special snacks. But they are captives with no hope of getting out and Ma is getting more desperate, especially when she learns that Old Nick has lost his job. If he ever abandons them in Room, survival would be impossible. Ma works out a daring plan of escape that is completely dependent on Jack being brave and wise beyond his years.

 Room intrigues on many levels:

  • The skillfulness of the author in successfully using a 5-year-old voice gives the book a simple and pure innocence, sometimes even humor and sweetness, while dealing with a horrendous tale of captivity. His innocent voice makes the horrible circumstances of Room bearable. Jack also makes us realize that children have an ability to survive and even thrive in the harshest of circumstances.
  • The resilience of the human spirit and the creative power of a mother’s love that shines through in Ma’s character (though she has been held in Room for years!) is inspiring. She is strong and protective for as long as she needs to be.
  • The surprising glimmers of humanity that we sometimes see in Old Nick even while he cruelly holds Ma and Jack captive are startling and make the reader reflect upon what complex creatures humans can be.

 This unforgettable and provocative book was one of the New York Times 10 best books of 2010.

ELM January 02, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I agree that this was a powerful book.

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