The basic plot reveals a mother and her son, Jack, both captives of a rarely-seen kidnapper. The story is told from Jack's perspective in his unique voice, and it is his voice that makes this book worthy of the praise that has enveloped it.
The first bit:
Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?" (3)Because you so immediately get attuned to his rhythms and phrasings, you also are attuned to his experience, which is unimaginable. You begin to break a bit right from the start. But it is not an immediately and consumingly dismal situation. Jack's Ma is an amazing creation. Donoghue deserves praise just for creating this world, this concept, and when you realize how skillfully Ma manages this otherwordly life, you almost want to stand in awe. Ma has developed a ridiculously "normal" life for her son with art projects, play time, good hygiene, relatively healthy food, phys ed (where they do Track, Trampoline, and Corpse among other activities), education, and perhaps most remarkably, safety from her captor. Jack is very literate and has superb numeracy for his age and development, and he is happy. How is this possible? Of course, the story doesn't end there although a part of me wishes it had.
Is it common knowledge that they escape from Room? I must say the escape sequence was wicked-good. It was one of those growing tensions that made me increase my reading speed and hunch over the book in an anxious twitch to see how it was resolved. And I was interested in the idea of life after Room for Jack and his Ma, but I was disappointed by the outcome. As I've sat with this disappointment, I've begun to wonder if there could be any satisfying response. There is no universally acknowledged response to freedom after abduction, so how am I to judge Ma's actions or the relative mental health of Jack under these circumstances? I don't feel capable or qualified to do so. But, I definitely did. And my judgment left me feeling unsettled. I did and equally didn't understand how a mother as creative and resilient as she had proven herself to be (I mean, really. Egg Snake? That's amazing.) could turn so dramatically after her release. I didn't understand how Jack's voice could actually grow and mature even as he should have been experiencing some pretty significant sensory overload. I did and didn't understand how Ma could find email and facebook more important than the mental health of her son. It was as if she had preserved him so far but no farther; had guaranteed his physical safety but had ignored his emotional and mental needs.
I enjoyed this book, admired this book, and do not disagree with the accolades that have come its way; however, I think it is being honored more on the strength of its opening section than on the merits of the whole book. As a gift to someone, I am giving my copy away (no mailing restrictions!), so if you would like it to be yours, comment below.