Very early into Emma Donoghue's Room Jack, the narrator, contemplates where he was a year before he was born, two years before. He's talking about negative numbers and he has just turned five.
Questioning how developmentally accurate such profound mathematics are, I was nervous. Back in November of last year I read Beth Goobie's Jason's Why which was supposed to be told from the perspective of a nine year old boy. I didn't buy it. Thankfully I ended up so immersed in Jack's story that I almost forgot about the authenticity all together. (And Jack's advanced math skills are explained further on.)
Since Room has been wildly popular ever since its publication 3 years ago, I hardly feel the need to summarize the plot but just in case, it's essentially about a boy who has been born to a captive woman. For the first five years of his life, all he has known and all he believes to exist is the small room where they are imprisoned. The plot can be broken down into two halves: the first involving life in the room, the second involving life after escaping.
Room is intense and engaging and heartbreaking. Jack is wise, funny, and occasionally frustrating but understandably so. Donoghue does a remarkable job making you relate to the overwhelm that his mother must sometimes feel, loving her child unconditionally and wholeheartedly but never getting a break from him.
I don't think Room was a flawless book. The whole escape plan I thought was a bit poorly thought out and unlikely, but it worked and I suppose sometimes poor plans do work out despite their odds. Once or twice I thought Donoghue used characters as mouthpieces for her own views (in particular, when Ma speaks her mind to a talk show host). And there are a few occasions when Jack watches media reports and recalls words and concepts he'd not understand which I thought— momentarily— weakened the authenticity of his voice. There's one scene at the end, for example, when he watches a panel discussing what Jack symbolizes. Not only did it seem implausible that he'd remember all the psychology/ philosophy jargon, but it seemed thrown in as book club fodder, just in case readers needed more talking points.
Nonetheless, I found Room enthralling and (unfortunately) topical.