The other night I met up with my Twitter (and now IRL, too!) friend @shabbygeek at a local Starbucks. We often chat about books on Twitter and seem to enjoy reading many of the same things. She brought me some books to borrow from her own personal library … and not just random books either; she really tried, I think, to pick ones she thought I’d enjoy based on what I tweet about. How sweet is that?! Anyway, of the five she brought me, I’ve read the first one already (in just 2 days) … Room, by Emma Donoghue. This review contains spoilers so considered yourself warned.
Room is told from the perspective of Jack, a 5-year-old (the story opens on his 5th birthday), whose entire world is Room where he lives with his Ma. He was born in Room, which is really an 11 x11 tool shed, with no natural light other than a small skylight, that’s been soundproofed and hidden in a backyard with 15-foot hedges all the way around. Ma was kidnapped by Old Nick when she was 19 and has been held captive by him in Room for 7 years.
Two years in, she has Jack, whose existence then gives her reason to survive in the Room. She shields him from Old Nick, making Jack go to bed in Wardrobe every night right before 9 p.m. when Door goes “beep, beep” and Old Nick comes in to squeak the bed. But Jack wakes in the morning cuddled with Ma, as she retrieves him in the night after Old Nick leaves. She does her best to raise him with the few items that Old Nick provides and those she and Jack ask for specially for “Sundaytreat.” They have 5 picture books and an old TV, and Ma tells Jack other stories she remembers from before the Room. At some point as Jack is growing, she makes a decision to not let him know what he’s missing, and he comes to believe that nothing much exists outside Room and him and Ma … and, of course, Old Nick.
The first part of the book tells of Jack and Ma’s escape from the Room, via an elaborate plan (“Plan B”) based on Ma’s retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, where Jack pretends to be dead and wrapped in old Rug like a shroud to be carried out for burial. He manages to escape from the back of Old Nick’s truck and ultimately the police find Ma in the Room. She tells Jack, “you’re my superhero.” The remainder of the book is about Ma’s readjustment to the real world and Jack’s acceptance that there is a “real for real” world outside Room. Some of it is funny; some is sad; and some is just reality.
There’s a few semi-political type statements such as how monsters sometimes get off on technicalities if evidence isn’t done just right or the fact that Ma has continued to breastfeed Jack. But it’s really just a wonderfully-told story of adapting and changing and staying the same.
Donoghue does an amazing job capturing the voice of a 5 year old. I can easily imagine much of what Jack says coming out of one of my kids’ mouths, like when he’s talking about a “tummy mommy” or how green beans are his enemy. Those are the times I got really teary-eyed but still couldn’t put the book down, which is how I read it in just 2 days. My friend @shabbygeek said she read somewhere that Donoghue had a 5-year-old herself while she was writing the book. It’s no less amazing to me though that she’s able to capture it so well. For 2 short days, it was as if I had a 4th child in the house, a Jack who’d been through so much and didn’t even really realize and was “scave” – that’s the “word sandwich” for “scaredy brave” – enough to be a superhero.