Rated Reads

Room

by Emma Donoghue

Rated: Mild

Five-year-old Jack has lived his whole life in Room, a small space he shares with his Ma. Every day, they bathe, eat their meals, do Phys Ed, read, watch TV (but only a limited amount so Jack’s brain doesn’t rot), color, sing and dance, and otherwise try to learn new things. They seem to live a fairly normal existence except for the fact that becomes clear as the book progresses: the two are prisoners of Old Nick, a man who kidnapped Ma seven years earlier and fathered Jack.

The book could be harrowing, stark, and scary, but it’s not; it’s told entirely from the perspective of the sweet Jack, who sees almost everything in his life in a positive light, thanks to the way his Ma has framed things. They have a routine; they spend all of their time together learning and playing. Life is an adventure. But Old Nick visits the room many nights, when Ma has put Jack in Wardrobe so he can’t see or be seen. Ma manages to bargain with her captor to get the basics that her son needs and a few little extras.

Then one day they make a daring escape, and life changes dramatically for Jack. Outside is much different than being in Room; he has to share his Ma with other people and sometimes be away from her. Ma must adjust to life again and come to grips with the damage that was done to her for years; she must deal with the media and figure out how to communicate with her family. And still, the whole story is told through the perspective of a five-year-old. It’s masterfully handled; the details are parceled out just so and the tale never gets overwrought. It feels real and right, and the adults’ reactions, the ones that we hear through Jack, are solid and ring true.

Room is a well-told tale that’s the most impressive for its lovely relationship between a mother and son and its charm and delight in life amidst horrible conditions.

Rated: Mild, for elements of kidnapping, imprisonment and rape, although there are no real details. There is no language except for a couple of times adults in the book start using bad language but stop mid-word.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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