By Emma Donoghue
I may be a little late in reading this book – it was shortlisted for a few awards when it was published last fall, and I feel like the last person to read it – but I have stayed away from any other reviews because I didn’t want them to influence my opinion.
I’m not sure if this is the kind of book that I can say I enjoyed, given the subject matter, but I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one day because once I started to read, I couldn’t walk away from Jack and Ma. I had to know what happened to them.
I don’t want to go into plot details, in case there is anyone reading this that isn’t familiar with the book, but I will summarize briefly (actually, the Kobo store will summarize):
To five-year-old Jack Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born and where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe in case Old Nick comes. Room is home to Jack but to Ma it’s the prison where Old Nick has kept her for seven years since she was nineteen. Through ingenuity and determination Ma has created a life for herself and her son but she knows it’s not enough for either of them. Jacks curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation — and Room can’t contain either of them for much longer…
The story is told entirely from five-year-old Jack’s perspective. He doesn’t know that there is a world outside of Room or that his mother ever had a life before him, that she was abducted by Old Nick. We see how his view of the world and his life changes as he learns these things, as his Ma reveals the truths of her life and the world.
There were moments reading this where my heart broke for Jack’s Ma and what she had experienced, and that Jack couldn’t really understand what had happened her. He is just so innocent and I felt his Ma’s frustrations when trying to explain things to him that, in all likelihood, he was just too young to comprehend.
The author does a great job of conveying their captivity and total isolation from the rest of the world. For example, they have a television but Jack doesn’t know that what he sees in it is real. To him, there is Room, and nothing else exists. Outside is something he can’t really comprehend, at least not in the beginning.
Ma has given Jack as ‘normal’ a life as she can, with routines that include physical activity, reading, spelling, and math. He is a smart, happy boy. He doesn’t know that he’s Old Nick’s captive, and his whole world is Room and Ma. It’s sad, touching, and fascinating.
If you haven’t read this one already, I definitely recommend it. It’s poignant and funny and compelling. If you have read it, I would love to know what you thought of the book.