Room by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company, 2010

The winner of a 2011 Alex Award as a book written for adults that has appeal for teens, Room is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Jack has just turned five. He and his Ma live in Room, a fortified soundproofed outbuilding where his mother has been kept prisoner for seven years by Old Nick. Although Old Nick is Jack's father, Jack has never laid eyes on him as he visits only at night after Jack has gone to sleep in the wardrobe. Things take a turn for the worse shortly after Jack's birthday and Ma begins to make plans for escape, involving a reluctant Jack who can hardly get his head around the fact that a world exists outside Room, where he is happy and content.

Room is told entirely through Jack's eyes, which makes for a fascinating perspective on both the situation he is in and how his mother reacts. As he doesn't know anything different, to him Room is as good as it gets. His perception of television is that it is transmitted from other worlds, and he truly believes that Dora the Explorer is his friend. Despite his naivete Jack is intelligent and is skilled at language. It is actually quite astonishing how diligent Ma has been in trying to keep him physically and mentally healthy in Room.

Ma was young when she was kidnapped by Old Nick, and after seven years of captivity she is still only in her mid-twenties. She finally reaches her breaking point when Old Nick shuts off their power and heat for a few days and begins planning their escape. Jack trying to get his head around the outside world is an interesting process, and certainly Donoghue had her work cut out for her narrating from a five-year-old's perspective.

There isn't much action in this novel, but what action there is I found extremely suspenseful. Room is far more about character and what people do to survive trauma, and seeing Ma struggle with newfound freedom and Jack trying to make some sense of the world outside Room - as well as the fact that he may sometimes be farther than a few feet away from Ma - was poignant.

I believe that older teens will find much to capture their attention here, especially as Ma was a teen when she was kidnapped. Certainly not a light read, it will undoubtedly continue to engender discussion.


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