Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Publishing Date: September 2010
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0316098335
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

My Thoughts: Emma Donoghue has written a riveting and unique book any interested reader should experience for themselves, especially prior to reading any reviews. Parts of Room will tug at your heart-strings, while others may horrify you, but if you feel like giving up, I urge you: take a break and return to the book again. It really is worth it.

Room is simple in that there are only two main characters, Ma and 5 year-old Jack. Room is told entirely from Jack's point of view, using his words. Every detail, thought, description, idea and conversation is relayed in Jack's voice. Room stands out from other books where a child is the narrator and/or main character, because, from page one, we are completely immersed in Jack's world.

In Jack, Ms. Donoghue has created a complex and captivating character. He's intelligent, observant, demanding, malleable, honest, and mature and immature at the same time. I found it fascinating to read Jack's description of life in Room (as Jack calls it) with Ma and their many activities. Jack informs us in the very beginning that he and Ma have "a thousand things to do" everyday, much of which Jack describes. As the story progresses, we experience Jack's mind working, see him come to realize that there may be more to real life than Room, Ma and himself.

Jack is constantly trying to understand what goes on in "Outer Space", Jack's term for the little bit he can see out of the small skylight, as well as make sense of things inside. Jack initially thinks everything outside Room and on television is fake. The only real things are Jack, Ma and the things in Room. Shortly after the book opens, Ma begins to “unlie” to Jack and tell him about the real world outside Room as well as other real boys and girls.

Halfway through Room there is a significant change in the setting, much to our relief. This shows the author's acute understanding of her readers, her creativity coming to the fore. She guarantees that the story avoids becoming monotonous or boring by freeing Jack and Ma from the physical Room. Rescuing them from the confines of that small space prevents what could have resulted in a frustrating read, testing our patience. Had Ms. Donoghue kept Jack and Ma in Room our empathy and concern for them might very well have eroded. Instead, our maternal feelings are heightened and their well-being is our paramount concern, making Room almost impossible to put down.

Sometimes, it took me a little while to understand Jack. Occasionally it's necessary to put ourselves in Jack's shoes to understand him. We have to be patient while trying to decipher what he's saying. Things aren't clear, for example, when he's trying to figure out where marks on Ma's neck came from, or when Jack counts the creaks of the bed at night while Old Nick is visiting Ma. Jack is, in fact, describing Ma being raped. But by telling the story from the point of view of a young child, our focus becomes Jack and his world. This makes the book interactive, requiring imagination and some work on our part. This manages to soften the immediate effects of Old Nick's actions, but once the reader interprets and reflects, it's unmistakable - what has happened to Jack and his mother is horrifying.

I hoped more and more as I read Room that Ms. Donoghue would provide us with at least a few pages giving us Ma’s point of view. This is a terrible ordeal for Jack, though he doesn’t know any better, but Ma’s there, looking out for him, caring for him, making sure he’s okay. But Ma has no one to do for her what she does for Jack. Kidnapped at 19! Raped daily! Physical and psychological trauma! How did she survive it? Giving Ma’s view could in itself be a whole other book!

This was a very different experience from other books where children are the main character or narrator. The story is simultaneously heartwarming, innocent and horrifying. Ms. Donoghue's effectiveness lies in making us understand , connect and sympathize with the characters, making Room a unique and wholly satisfying read.

I received a copy of Room for review through Crazy Book Tours.


  1. Totally agree, every word. It does require you to see things through an innocent five year olds eyes. Took me a minute to figure out what "wanting some" was. As far as Ma's point of view, I think we can draw a few conclusions, by how she will occasionally "check out" and by her actions towards the end of the book. Poor woman. I go nuts if I'm indoors for an afternoon with mine.

  2. I listened to this on audio and went back and forth between liking it and being annoyed. I agree with wanting Ma's point of view.

  3. This is the book I wish I'd read in 2010! Oh well, there is always 2011, and I WILL get to it!!

  4. I think it's interesting that she tells the story from Jack's point of view. I really hope to have time to read this book in the new year.

  5. Just don't know if I'm up for this one...

  6. Wonderful review Amy.

    I have read so much about this one but yours is the first to point out the change in setting and the positive affect of that change on the reader.

    I just don't think this is for me, despite all the accolades...too dark.

  7. Oh, I sure hope my mom loans me her copy of this soon!

  8. This is definitely one I will read in 2011. Great review!