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Book Review: “Room” by Emma Donoghue

This is an image from the interactive web site for “Room”

I absolutely loved “Room” by Emma Donoghue. I took my time with this book (almost three months!) because it came highly recommended and once I got into it I didn’t want it to go away. (It only took half a chapter to “get into it,” by the way). The book was released in 2010 and I took note of it but didn’t jump on it; seems like other books are always vying for my attention. It went directly on my TBR list when I read the unique synopsis but then I forgot about it. This summer it was brought to my attention again, and I picked it up because…well, why not? It was certainly not wasted time, and it put a lot of other readage to shame.


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.

It’s hard to express the quality of this reading experience. It seems that author Emma Donoghue has incredible insight into the particular psychology of a child–or at least this child–so much that I actually forgot the novel wasn’t written by five-year-old Jack, the narrator and protagonist. I couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide of “Room” than Jack, who has since served as the firecracker voice inside my head when I think of a child talking. Donoghue easily makes Jack’s voice wise beyond his five years, and she has no artistic issue evoking his personality from page one. When you grasp the concept of the plot and the possible real-life implications of what the two characters are going through, you start to think “maybe I should have passed on this one.” I agree that it’s heavy subject matter, but believe me, you only have that thought for a fleeting minute, because you have to know what’s going to happen. And Jack’s comforting presence has you feeling that it’s going to be something good.

I had no idea how important children narrators can be to a story, because when you think about it, how many books do you read where children are center stage the whole story? Until “Room,” of course. Now I know that if one wants a reliably clear and unvarnished perspective on anything, one must ask a child. Jack manages to make his and his mother’s extremely limited living conditions almost delightfully fun (yes, I used the word “fun”) as if it’s not the nightmare it would be for any adult. We’re reminded that children are highly adaptable and can see the positive in the dimmest corners. That’s why this story had to be written in Jack’s voice, because it would have been undeniably depressing and unreadable otherwise. Ma kept Jack alive and company, but Jack was by far the most important aspect of the story for us as readers.

When the two are finally “rescued” (thanks to Jack’s unique combination of “scared” and “brave”) it’s interesting to watch as he and his mother both cope with life outside the confines of “Room.” Abusive, psychotic Old Nick is no longer the issue, but other challenges stand in the way. At no point do you as a reader confuse what the author is trying to illustrate. The book isn’t about the horror of captivity and abuse. It’s about how a mother and son find their way beyond what has symbolically and ironically been their “comfort zone” for the past seven years. It’s not about what can happen when an unaccompanied female talks to a stranger who plans to steal her and her future. It’s about what the female does in the confines of a shed in a monster’s backyard: raise herself and her child the best way she knows how. It’s not about the evil of humanity, it’s about the redemption that comes from realizing that you’re never “trapped” or “done” as long as you keep pressing forward.

Jack’s voice doesn’t feel limited or stifled in any way. Except for his obviously limited views on the world outside of “Room,” and general naivete, he copes remarkably well. Jack is a fully-formed human being with ideas, motivations, feelings, and an imagination fit for at least a ten-year-old; his Ma does her best to shape and mold him despite the withered conditions. This is not a sob story, this is a redemptive story of the power of love and the will to live. You will never read anything like it, for sure. (And yes, this book is blogged under “parenting” for a reason!)


Five stars for being an amazing piece of fiction, and for not feeling like a sensationalized story but a real journey of two hearts and minds. Visit Room here:

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