Room by Emma Donoghue
Jack is five years old and his entire world is an 11×11 Room filled with Wardrobe, Bed, Table, Rug, Plant, and Ma, until one day Ma hatches up a plan to escape Outside, and Jack’s world gets a whole lot bigger.
It’s not often you read an entire novel from the perspective of a five-year-old and not have it feel tired and unrealistic, but Room succeeds in crafting a well told story with developed characters from such a young perspective. It’s also necessary to tell from Jack’s perspective, as he has no knowledge of the outside world, and it makes Room’s believability, nostalgia, and confusion work.
The first half of the novel, Jack and his mother are prisoners in Room, an 11×11 garden-shed-turned-cell, which has been soundproofed, reinforced, and hidden away. Jack, having been born in Room, knows nothing of the outside world and believes everything on TV is fake, his mother having made up lies to keep him happy.
The second half takes place after an escape plan, and Jack and his mother are now Outside, in the real world, and have to adjust to life in the expansive world. The second half was a lot harder to read, as the reader sees, through Jack’s eyes, Ma going through quite a few changes and depression, and Jack’s fear of the unknown and homesickness for Room. We see the criticism placed on Ma, the effects of growing up in Room on Jack, and just want them both to be happy and free, while knowing it will be some time before they are.
I did have some anxious moments while reading this, the thought of being confined to such a small space for so long a time making me feel claustrophobic and insane, and then the lasting damage and difficulty in returning back to normal triggered it once more.
Despite the harrowing messages and dreadful situations these characters were in, there’s something to be said about a child’s innocence and wonder, and reading from Jack’s perspective was a nice refresher of what that can be. He and the reader go on the journey together, slowly understanding the story together, and braving (scraving) the outside world.
One minor problem I had was simply the method Jack and Ma used to escape: why risk so much, why put Jack in such terrible danger, is that really the only way? Why not just brute-force the keypad or throw some boiling soup on Old Nick’s face? Surely, there are safer ways, even if it did all end up okay in the end.