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Room, By Emma Donoghue

What’s the life of a five-year old? You’d assume fun and games, but not for Jack. Jack lets us enter his world; in this case for him it’s the “room”. In this eleven by eleven foot world is a five-year old child who has never felt sunlight, never smelled fresh air, or even known anyone other than his ma and Old Nick.

There is a skylight so Jack and his Ma can see the sun and the moon. There is an old television that Jack watches occasionally and uses to learn about the outside. In this room Jack and his 26-year-old mother spend their days following with a strict agenda, including “Phys Ed” where he runs in circles around the shed, cooking lessons where he presses the button on the oven, and reading times in which he listens to his ma read the same five books over and over again.

Jack, however, does not feel trapped. The fact that they live in Room against his mother’s will is not something Jack knows right away, and this creates the major gaps and complications in the book, because it is eventually realized that Room is both a prison and a sanctuary. In fact, inside Jack feels secure. Being able to see his mother at any time makes the Room a haven. We learn as Jack learns, and often we learn more than he can yet grasp. At 5, Jack is developmentally delayed. “Maybe I’m a human,” he thinks, “but I’m a me-and-Ma as well.”

His mother has created a structured, dynamic routine for him, including exercise, singing and reading. Rug, Bed, Wall, Table and Shoes are the only things he knows other than his Ma. Donoghue works around the restriction of having a five-year-old narrator. It is beautifully written.

When Jack turns five, his ma starts telling him about the outside. At first Jack doesn’t believe his ma. Early in the novel, Ma tries to help him understand: “there are more things on earth than you ever dreamed about,” she says. “That’s ridiculous” Jack thinks, “Ma was never Outside”. He can’t wrap his head around the fact that other things and people exist. Jack was born into a small, windowless room and has lived there with his mother, who was being held captive by a sexually abusive kidnapper. When his ma tells him that they have to escape, Jack’s world comes crashing down.

Although it has a disturbing premise, Room isn’t scary. It’s not a tearjerker either. It’s about the love a little boy has towards his mother. It’s a captivating and light read about a serious subject. It will attract anyone, but enchant people with interests in child development and education more.