I had a little time last night so I started reading Room by Emma Donohue (author of a recent book I read I Wonder); the next thing I knew it was 5am and the sun was coming up. Little did I know I had picked up a book that has become a phenomenon. It was made into a movie in 2015.
Undoubtedly one of the most harrowing stories I've read in awhile, Room is a fictionalized story based on several notorious accounts of people taking young girls prisoner and keeping them locked up for many years, raping and abusing them, siring children with them, and keeping their horrific secrets, sometimes for decades.
Room is given yet another layer of distress by being told from the voice of Jack the five-year-old son of the kidnapped woman, born into the horrific man-made prison and raised in the enclosed space, never knowing anything at all about outdoors. Not knowing that anything at all exists outside of the room, their entire world. From Jack's perspective his life is lovely, secure, idyllic, and spent entirely with his beloved Ma while from his mother's perspective she is living in torture, neglect, rape, victimization, and abuse.
Jack's mother cycles through extreme depression and remarkably resiliency and exceptionally creative parenting over the years of her captivity. One cannot help but be in awe of her fortitude and fierce love and protection for her son. While Jack lives day to day to day within the small world of Room. Jack is a highly inquisitive little boy and his mother struggles with being honest about the world at large and with the reality that he may never know or see the world beyond Room. She is forced to choose what she will keep from him; he comes to believe that all of the things he sees on TV are pretend and not real, including other people, weather, nature, even the planet.
Jack's ever-growing curiosities bring confusion to him as he struggles to understand the facts as Ma has presented them and all new information she gives him in his natural questioning and energy. He is such a beloved little boy; every parent can relate to his guileless inquisitiveness. He is lovable, well-meaning... protected from the horrific reality of their circumstances. In Room, Jack and his mother are barely individual. At one point he muses "Maybe I’m a human," he thinks, "but I’m a me-and-Ma as well." The psychological damage to both Jack and his mother is an ever-growing sea of inevitability...
I hate to give away too much of the plot but I must relate that a certain point the two are released from their captivity. What follows is a two-fold path of recovery from the harrowing abuse and imprisonment experience and an abrupt expulsion from a sanctuary or haven at the same time. One must almost refer to the dual story lines as masterful.
While I didn't understand the lack of compassion in family, nor did I understand some of Jack's mother's major choices in the life after Room,
I did appreciate the continual discovery and confusion and dissonance experienced by Jack in Outside.
It's not every day that a book moves me, disturbs me, disquiets me this much. I found myself doing several hours of research and reading after completing the book...leaving me even more sore and bruised. I honestly can't decide if I will read Elizabeth Smart's memoir My Story...
For the innovative, non-gimmicky use of the five-year old's voice, for the moving telling of two points of view in one terrifying story, for keeping my heart in my throat through the night, I give this book ten stars, minus three because I wanted to know so much more about Jack's mother and so much less about Jack's grandparents. That's seven stars from me.