Below is my review of Room, but first I wanted to talk about it in a different context.
There are some books that when I read them I can't stop thinking about them. They pervade my thoughts and sometimes I even dream about them. When I have to stop reading them, say at the end of a work break, they're all I can think about. I think about them when I'm working, when I'm cooking, when I'm reading something else. They get so into my head that I need to finish them as soon as possible. I need to spend as much time as I can with them in order to finish them and think about them some more.
Since I started reading Room, I haven't been able to think about much else. Jack is always in my mind, his idioms and speech patterns are constantly making me rethink the way I see things. Now that I've finished the book it's become lessened, but I woke up this morning still thinking about Jack and his Ma.
If you read nothing else this year (or next year, since this year is almost over), read Room. It will get into your head and you won't want to stop thinking about little Jack and his fantastic adventure into Outside.
Room by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was my 65th book of the year. And it was the best. I haven't read a more perfect book in such a long time. There is nothing bad I can say about it, it was just that good.
Jack is a little boy who lives in Room, the only home he has ever known. The book opens on his fifth birthday, and takes place within a few months of that day. The reader comes to realize, after a few section breaks, that Jack's Ma is a captive of "Old Nick," Jack's name for the man who comes to visit in the night, preceded by a beep, beep.
**There are spoilers below the jump.**
Jack's mind is the mind of a five-year-old, but it is also very advanced because of his experiences with his Ma. He doesn't know that there is a world outside of Room, but he does understand some complex ideas in simple ways - how he was born, where people go when they die, not to touch the stove, etc. His life revolves around what happens in Room, mostly eating, playing, watching TV, and exercising.
When Jack's Ma tells him that there is a real world in Outside, that the people on TV are real and not just in the box, he doesn't understand. He becomes angry and tells his mom to stop lying. In fact, she is "Unlying," as the title of the section says. Her years of captivity have finally come to a culmination - she needs to escape, and she needs Jack to help her.
Their escape is risky and difficult. Jack is unwilling at first, and reluctant at best. When he keeps telling himself he is "scave," he tries to be more brave than scared. My heart raced when Old Nick discovered that Jack wasn't really dead, and got out to catch him. When the police showed up and Jack couldn't tell them what happened at first, I was shouting in my head, "Jack! Jack, talk to them!"
The ultimate rescue of Ma gave me such a profound feeling of relief. I haven't felt that scared, anxious and excited while reading a book in such a long time. It seems like it happened very quickly, and at the same time in slow motion. I was dreading the image of her body on the floor after Old Nick had showed up and murdered her. But I was feeling Jack's relief as she grabbed him in the car and held him, safe from Old Nick and safe from her prison.
Their experiences in the care facility were so realistic that I felt as if I were reading the real experiences. I thought throughout that I would be so happy I was out I wouldn't be angry or depressed or scared, but Ma's reaction to being freed was so full of anxiety and depression that I realized, she had been imprisoned so long with her son, who didn't understand anything other than Room, that she would be wanting to be free and Jack would want to be back inside. The Outside is scary for him, it's different and huge and he can't cope alone, while Ma wants to go outside, go home to her family, be truly free.
The element of the book I felt most connected to was Ma's relationship with Jack. She struck me as someone who was so mature, and yet still stuck in the mind of a 19-year-old. At the end of the book they make a list of things they want to do someday, and Ma wants to go dancing while Jack stays with Grandma and Leo (Steppa). She wants to experience the things she missed, but she understands that Jack needs her too. Becoming a mother while being imprisoned changed her and left her with an incredible sense of selfishness and selflessness. She put her son in danger to escape, but she refuses to let him be put in danger once they're out.
Ma's attempted suicide hit me so hard, because I could feel Jack's pain and hers at the same time. When she finally recovered and said she made a mistake, I knew how she could have been feeling. She was expecting a completely different reality, and instead she was left with media, choices to make for Jack, a family that didn't understand, and doctors who wanted to tell her what to do. Her father wished Jack had never been born, and didn't want anything to do with either of them because of it. Her life wasn't better in Room, but she was so lost in Outside she couldn't cope.
The outing with Ma's brother, sister-in-law and niece was definitely an eye-opener as to how clueless people function in life. Their lives seemed so happy when she was finally released, but in reality you come to see that they don't get along very well and they have a hard time taking care of more than one child at a time. Jack's experience with near-shoplifting was funny and sad because you could tell he didn't understand that the book he was holding wasn't really his copy, but he wanted to cling to something familiar so badly that his uncle was forced to buy it for him.
The very last scene of the book, where Ma and Jack go back to Room, was so perfectly done. Room is so much smaller than he thought it was, because he'd been Outside and seen more than he'd ever imagined. Jack can't understand at first that this IS Room and that HE had changed. As he and Ma say goodbye to Room, the reader can see that they are now really able to live without it. Jack is willing to let go of something he had been struggling to hold onto for weeks, while Ma gets the closure of knowing she will never have to return to that dungeon.
I can't believe I didn't pick this up when it came out. I can't believe I didn't pay attention to the reviews, I can't believe I was satisfied with wanting to read it instead of actually reading it. I wish I had read it sooner but I'm so happy I finally did. On the cover is a comparison with The Lovely Bones, another of my favorite books, and it is true. In fact, in some ways, this was more perfect than The Lovely Bones. Read this book if you haven't. Read it if only to feel something, because you will feel EVERYTHING.
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