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Review: Room

Contributed By Samantha Holle

Recap:  Jack is five years old today.  To celebrate his birthday, he and Ma bake a cake, run on Track, watch TV, and get to sleep before Old Nick comes.  But Old Nick isn’t the jolly old man who knows when you are sleeping, and Track isn’t outside.  Track is the floor around Bed in their eleven by eleven prison room, and Old Nick is a kidnapper who has kept Ma in a shed in his yard for seven years.

Jack has become a beacon of hope for Ma, and on his fifth birthday she begins to tell him the truth about the world outside that he has never seen.  Driven by her desires to escape and prove to Jack that there’s a world outside of Room, Ma and Jack hatch a plan that will free them.  But will Jack be able to adapt to Outside, with all its people, cars, and wide open spaces?  And will Ma be able to return to living a normal life?

AnalysisRoom is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who has only ever seen the inside of four walls and who thinks everyone on television is made up.  Jack is an unlikely cheerful spirit in a repressive environment, and it’s a testament to his mother’s hope for freedom that he doesn’t sense her despair.  In the story, Jack becomes a symbol of her remaining optimism.  She raises her son to have manners, a wide vocabulary, and an active lifestyle despite their living conditions.  (Track, for example, is when they move all of their furniture onto the bed and practice running.)

Readers may question how a five year old can retell dialogue and use terms like “post-traumatic stress disorder”; author Emma Donoghue easily resolves this by explaining another game Ma and Jack play called “Parrot,” where they listen to the television, mute it, and have Jack recite what he has just heard.  It’s a lesson in vocabulary and memorization all in one that solves the dialogue problem.

In addition to a unique narrative structure, Jack unknowingly references literary works and authors that connect to their desperate lives.  Jack mentions poetry by Emily Dickinson — who is known for secluding herself, in stark contrast to Ma and Jack’s unchosen imprisonment,  calls himself Jack the Giant Killer and marvels at the story of Jack and the Beanstalk — the story of a boy who so badly wants to make his mother happy that he takes on a giant to gain material happiness — and even marvels at how life Outside keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser”, as Lewis Carroll’s Alice did when she took her tour of Wonderland.  It not only enriches the text and the characters, but it makes the voice of Jack all the more sweet because he is so naive about the terrifying situation in which he’s been raised.

MVP:  Ma. Though she becomes frustrated when Jack doesn’t believe her about Outside or when he insists on remaining in Room, she never loses her cool; she is never violent or mean to her child.  She is a heroine despite her flaws — Jack describes days where Ma is Gone; she lays in bed unresponsive for hours, sometimes days, at a time — but one cannot help but sympathize with her plight and her unavoidable depression.  There is a moment of panic for both Jack and the reader, but just like during her time in Room, Ma goes to great lengths to rebound and try to become whole again.

Get Room in paperback for $9, down from $15.

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