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Review: Room, Emma Donoghue

5 year old Jack and his Ma live in one room. Jack has never known anything different; he adheres closely to their daily rituals and truly believes that the world doesn’t extend outside the one room. His only view of the outside world is a skylight and he thinks everything that happens there is really just in the TV. He dreads visits from “Old Nick”, the man who visits his mother, and has to hide in the wardrobe every time he comes to visit. When Jack turns five, his mother starts trying to tell him about the world, but Jack isn’t sure he’s ready to face it.

Just a quick warning, this book is best going into it knowing nothing more than that, and I will be including spoilers in my review.

I had two reactions to this book. I struggled with the beginning. Unlike Jack, I knew what was going on. I knew “Old Nick” had kidnapped and raped his mother, and that Jack was the product of that rape; it seemed incredibly sad to me how he simply got on with his life as though it were normal. I doubt any mother could have chosen to do anything else, there certainly isn’t any sense in raising a child to be miserable, but it was hard to take. I felt stifled just thinking about the life of Jack’s Ma. I must admit that I was also quite disgusted at the continuation of breast feeding, though I could see why there was no reason to actually stop.

And then they escape, and I started to appreciate the book more. For me, their integration into the real world was the interesting part. Seeing how much Jack hadn’t experienced and how poorly equipped he was for the actual world was, again, heartbreaking. One of the more interesting parts of it, though, was the fact that Jack completely misses out on societal stigmas. He doesn’t think it’s weird that he has long hair like a girl, or that Dora is his favorite television character. He carries a pink Dora backpack and thinks nothing of it – an interesting, and I think accurate, view on how society teaches us about the differences between boys and girls.

When they emerge into the real world, it’s also apparent that Jack has the adaptive ability of his age, while Ma struggles desperately to cope. Despite his confusion over separation from her, he continues to learn about the world and find his own place in it, which in contrast to the rest of the book is heartwarming and gives us hope. I loved the sections when he’s with his grandparents and learning little things about the world that he likes. It’s really a testimony to the power of childhood. He struggles at first, but he does realize that the outside world is a nice place – and that he can still be with his Ma in it.

Room has garnered quite a bit of attention in the press and on blogs due to its recent Booker prize nomination, so I don’t think I’m adding anything new to the discussion; regardless, I would definitely recommend this book. It’s dark, but not without its strands of hope.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for review for free from Amazon Vine.

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