Room, by Emma Donoghue

Best-selling, award-winning novel and motion picture, nominated for four Academy Awards

Room is a good story from start to finish.  But what makes it so effective and so captivating is that it is told in its entirely by one of its main characters, Jack, in his five-year-old voice.

Jack has lived his entire life in an 11×11 foot, windowless room.  He was born there.  He and his “Ma” eat, sleep, play and live there, intentionally hidden from the outside world.  At night Ma shuts Jack into the wardrobe, safe and hopefully asleep when “Old Nick” chooses to visit.

But while “Room” is home to Jack, to Ma it is the prison where she has been held captive for seven years, since she was kidnapped when she was 19.  She is repeatedly raped by Old Nick who enters Room any night he pleases. Jack is the result of one of those rapes.

Jack’s observations are bright, often insightful and reflect the good education his mother has managed to give him despite very limited tools. She teaches him to read, to think and to question. She makes up creative games to increase his vocabulary and give him a love for books, hoping to prepare him somewhat for the outside world. Together they create “word sandwiches”—if something is both cool and scary is is “coolary.” Jack’s observations when he finally is able to see the outside world through a window are all his own. He calls the sun “God’s face.”

While Ma is depressed and fiercely determined to escape, she is loves her young son and creates the best life and most loving environment she can for him.

But Jack’s curiosity and her own desperation are building and she knows she must find a way for them to escape from Room. They make a harrowing escape into the “Outside.”But now they must make huge and very different adjustments—Jack into a world full of people, sunshine, wind, buildings, cars and loud unfamiliar sounds everywhere.  And Ma now finds herself in a familiar but very changed world. While her family and friends hoped and prayed she was still alive they could have had no idea what her life had become: motherhood, repeated rapes, imprisonment in a small room with no windows, completely cut off from the outside world.

Ma and Jack are frightened, but of different things and for different reasons. We watch them both in their separate struggles, hear Jack describe his new world, his fear, awe, and his worry about his Ma and her own very different struggle to adjust.

The continuing thread is the unconquerable love and determination Jack and his Ma share—the diamond-hard love between a mother and her child.

— Gail Stilwill

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