Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to


Posted by nliakos on January 10, 2012

by Emma Donoghue (Back Bay Books, 2010)

Five-year-old Jack has never been outside of the small room where his mother has been held captive for seven years, and he has never spoken to another human being other than Ma, who makes sure he is hidden in the wardrobe during the nightly visits of her captor to her bed. Although they have a television, Jack believes that the people and things he sees on TV aren’t real like him and Ma. Even the person he calls Old Nick does not seem quite real to him, and he cannot imagine Outside at all. The individual things in his world (Room, Wall, Ceiling, Bed, Table, Spider, Toilet, Eggsnake, etc.) are the only things that matter. Jack’s Ma has somehow managed to structure their lives to include reading, cooking, cleaning, exercising, playing, and talking.  It is as if Jack spent his formative years in complete isolation, like Genie or the Wild Boy of Aveyron; but unlike them, Jack had his mother to talk to him, read to him, tell him stories, and teach him, with the result that not only does Jack have language–his language is very sophisticated for his age.

Jack and Ma do almost everything together, with what little they are allowed. It is enough for Jack, but not for his mother, who, of course, must still submit to the sexual predator who keeps them locked up in this soundproofed shed in his back yard. After Old Nick cuts the power to the shed for three long, freezing days, she decides she cannot wait any longer to act, and she plans a daring escape, using Jack as her tool. (That particular chapter made me so anxious I raced through it to find out what happened and then had to go back and reread it for the details!)

The last part of the book describes Jack’s gradual adjustment to life Outside. This part is very compelling. Never having known the wider world outside Room, Jack longs to return to the one place he really felt safe. When he finally does go back, he finds it different from how he remembered it, but he also finds closure.

Written in the language of a very precocious child, Room is accessible to high intermediate and advanced English language learners.


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