Book Reviews Books for Adults

Room by Emma Donoghue

9 of 10: When I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it. Room, told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy living in captivity with his mother, blew me away.

You may have heard about this book – it’s been wildly popular with all the big review sources, has been a major bestseller, and was on the New York Times list of the 10 Best Books of 2010.

I never would have picked it up if Julie hadn’t so convincingly sold me on it.

The premise sounds so awful – it’s about a woman who has been kept in a shed-turned-prison for the last seven years after being abducted. She has a five year old son (the child of her abductor, of course) and the whole book is told through the little boy, Jack’s, eyes.

Jack has never once been outside of Room, the eleven square foot shed he and his mother live in. He doesn’t even realize there is a world outside of it – the things he sees on TV, he believes are made up. His mother hasn’t directly lied to him, but she also doesn’t want him to realize all of the world and life he is missing out on.

And she’s done an amazingly good job of making his life as normal as possible under the circumstances. She reads to him, they play games, they have a routine. And his mother protects him, fiercely, from the realities of their situation.

Then, about a third of the way through the book, they manage to escape (as I saw this coming, I thought that this would really strain my credibility, but it was actually not too bad) and now the world, which has always been so compact and predictable, stretches out into a huge and unknown space.

His mom has done her best, of course, but there are things you wouldn’t even consider that he doesn’t know – how to climb stairs or how to judge new distances (he keeps running into things). He can’t comprehend that there are multiple copies of the same book in the world. The loss of the rigid routines frightens Jack and he finds himself missing Room and his small existence with just his mother. Because of his mother’s protection, Room was virtually entirely positive for him. He knows none of the horrors his mother has.

Having it told through Jack’s eyes works unbelievably well. As an adult reader you catch things that he notices but doesn’t understand. When his mother tells him a little about her life before her abduction, her family, her time as a student, he finds this utterly unbelievable, but as a reader it is heartbreaking to hear her story. After they escape, you catch glimpses of the media storm that erupts, but Jack is mainly just amazed to see himself on the television.

Despite her amazing efforts, Jack’s mother not a perfect parent. And he’s not a perfect boy either. They are, both, such real, vivid characters. Their imperfections make it a little easier to imagine yourself in their place.

It’s not depressing, although there is a lot of sadness. Some parts made me laugh outloud, like when she’s being interviewed by some Oprah-like person who says, “Now many viewers have been shocked to hear you are still breastfeeding your son,” to which the mother responds, “In this whole situation, that’s the shocking part?”

It’s been a few weeks since I finished it and I still find myself thinking about it at the oddest moments, remember little details of it (like when the mother has her first shower in seven years or when she tries to explain to Jack that they don’t have to make special requests for SundayTreat now, but can buy whatever things for themselves, when they want to).

It’s not a book that’s easy to explain. It’s as experiential a book as I have ever read – it’s almost like watching a movie, rather than reading a book.

In some ways, it’s like The Hunger Games. The premise just about makes you ill, but somehow it works in a way that isn’t graphic or over-the-top. It’s heart-wrenching and yet so life-affirming, I wanted to weep (I may have, just a little). 

Copy checked out from my local library

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  • Reply Laurie@The Baking Bookworm February 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I've heard a lot of wonderful comments about this book but haven't picked it up yet. I think my hestitancy has to do with the issues this book tackles. I want to read this book but have to be in the right frame of mind first. I had the same issue with the book "Still Missing" by Chevy Stevens (great read!!). "Room" is on my radar … now I just need to get set to read it.

  • Reply Amy February 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks for this review – I've put off reading this because thinking about just made me cringe, but I'm glad to hear it's not depressing or graphic. I think you've sold me on reading it.

  • Reply lifeofadoctorswife February 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Excellent review!

    I too read it without finding it depressing. I guess that's what happens when you see life through the eyes of a child who can't fully comprehend what he's going through. Which makes me feel kind of hopeful.

  • Reply Megan B. February 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I loved this book too. It hasn't even been three weeks since I read it, and reading your review, and re-reading my review last night as I posted it to my book blog has made me want to read it again already.

  • Reply Jenny February 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    So what's the youngest age you would recommend a reader be for Room?

  • Reply Megan February 11, 2011 at 3:40 am

    I really loved this book, too. It was one of my book club's also-rans, and it sounded so interesting that I went ahead and read it on my own. I had many of the same impressions you did; having the story told through Jack's eyes made it so interesting, and is likely the reason that I found it, despite the truly awful circumstances, such a great story about parent-child love and what parents go through to protect their kids.

  • Reply Peaceful Reader February 11, 2011 at 4:31 am

    I've wondered about this book. I wasn't sure if it was going to live up to all the hype. It sounds similar to My Abandonment by Peter Rock, a book I read last year. I'll have to read and compare. I will look for it this weekend at our library.

  • Reply theoncominghope February 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I would think 15 or 16 would be the youngest age that's appropriate for this novel.

  • Reply emandtrev February 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I've heard great, great things about this book! Can't wait to read it myself.

  • Reply Kelly February 12, 2011 at 1:57 am

    My Book Club is currently reading this. I could not put it down. It's a strange story to explain to others and you did a great job! I am looking forward to discussing it with our club! Glad to know you enjoyed it as well.

  • Reply Amy Sorensen February 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    I'm doing the lalalalalalalalala thing and not looking at your review, but I wanted you to know that I finally just broke down and bought my own dang copy of this. I'm tired of waiting. Of course, now I'm waiting for it to be delivered but that will be faster than the Eternal Waiting List which I Can Never Get to the Top Of.

  • Reply Karri October 4, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I read this about a month ago and I still can't stop thinking about it. It left that much of an impression on me.

  • Reply Rachel January 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    I just fianlly read Room. I have wanted to read it since you posted last year. It was certainly a page turner! I am a cheat and read the end so I could relax and take my time. I am with Jack. I liked Room better. I am not convinced by his thoughts. I am not an early childhood devlelopment specialist but some of his cognitions were too much – thinking!

    For whatever reason, I was most significantly impacted by his breastfeeding. Not the duration, but his need for it. His need (pathological?) to breastfeed spoke more to me than anything he said or did. He would mention it and I would actually cringe. I am still trying to sort out why…

  • Reply Heather February 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    This is one of my recent favorites…though I guess I read it about a year ago now. Very well written and absorbs you into the story. And nicely written review!

  • Reply Michelle Lindsted February 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I really loved this book! It really makes you feel for this poor woman and the child she had to give birth to on her own in what seems to a shed.
    I agree with you 100 % that the two characters imperfections just make the story seem that more real when reading it. You can much better identify yourself with imperfect characters than the perfect ones.
    Great review ^^

  • Reply Hyacinth Marius September 19, 2014 at 11:35 am

    What a great book. Could not put it down. So sad to think this type of abuse really happens.

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