When I finished this brilliant novel, besides being as locked into its story and world as Jack and Ma were in Room, I had no idea how I would review it. I was convinced there was nothing I could say about it without the entire review being one big spoiler. For me, what made Room so great was that I never knew from page to page what would happen next. Finding out what happens next made it one of the best thrillers I have ever read. I want every reader to experience that.
Therefore, other reviews will let you find out more than I am going to tell you. Even the summary on the jacket tells more than I would. I will tell you that five-year-old Jack is one of the most unique fictional characters I have ever met. If Harold of purple crayon fame or Max and his wild things could tell you about their lives in their own words, they might sound a bit like Jack. Emma Donoghue has two small children and has clearly read plenty of books to them while not forgetting what it is like to be a child.
Because Jack has only known one other human being for his first five years, his perception of Ma is another wonder of Room. When he is angry at something Ma does, even during the occasional day when she is "gone" and can't get out of bed, his intimate understanding of her is equal to the care she takes with him and is deeply moving. Ma has used imagination and routine to create a safe world for Jack. He always knows what time it is, how much TV he can watch, when the activities of the day will occur. Ma does her best to answer his many questions, teaches him to read and count through games that they play, and keeps him safe from Old Nick. Room is their world and everything else is TV or Outer Space. The author conveys it all through the eyes of Jack.
Later in the story as things change, the author maintains Jack's credibility almost perfectly. So convincing are the initial setups of the story that I willingly suspended my disbelief through to the last page and allowed Jack his viewpoint, his language and most of all, his feelings.
The themes in Room are weighty and disturbing. Domestic bullying, abduction, imprisonment, varieties of dangerous environments are the stuff of modern life. By filtering those themes through the eyes and mind of a child, Donoghue lays on the patina of a fairy tale. She also illustrates the power of mothering and the heroism of ordinary people. These are just some of the ways we triumph over a world full of terrors.
Room will make an excellent book club read with lots to discuss. It may also appeal to teen readers as it contains no inappropriate content and might help young adults in dealing with life.
This review was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the May 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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