Every once in a while I read a new book that I want to tell everyone about. Room is one of those stories.
It was the basic idea that caught my attention. A story about a girl who was kidnapped at 19 and held in an eleven by eleven foot shed for seven years. Depressing, right? Or intriguing? If it’s told entirely from the point of view of her five year old son Jack who was born into this captivity and knows nothing else, it becomes absolutely fascinating.
The book opens as Jack wakes up the morning of his fifth birthday. “… when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.” Now Jack is an unusually intelligent five year old (on the first page alone he demonstrates a knowledge of negative numbers) or this book would probably fast dissolve into something annoying and unreadable, but Donoghue creates a brilliantly sympathetic child in Jack. I found myself torn between amusement and horror as he catalogs his daily routines with his mother (even simple tasks like brushing their teeth have an added hint of the dramatic), and quickly fell in love with this precocious child who is his mother’s only comfort. Now that Jack is five (and because his mother is truly reaching the end of her mental rope), the reality of a world outside theirs is slowly revealed. He begins asking questions that never occurred to him before and his mother can no longer lie about their circumstances. Between them, Jack and his mother devise an escape plan which, despite a few heart-stopping hiccups, works, and the two are finally rescued. The remainder of the book deals with the reality of release as both a child who didn’t know the world existed and a woman who has forgotten how to live in it cope with the many sudden changes in their lives.
A lot of things made this book both valuable and entertaining. It’s a fascinating look at the psychology of captivity and the impact early childhood has on development. It is a literary marvel (I mean, how many other writers could realistically pull off the voice of a five year old without it getting old real quick?). It is also a look at both the highs and the lows of the human experience and the highs and the lows of human morality. Highly unique, brilliantly executed, and now recommended to everyone who passes through my bookstore.
Erica’s rating: 4/5