A few years ago, my friend Courtney told me about Room. I was immediately drawn to the very idea of the story: told from the perspective of 5-year old Jack, who has lived his entire life in an 11-by-11-foot space. The very idea of a five-year-old boy confined to such a small space is haunting. Before I had my hands on the book, I had questions. Why is he there? What happened? Does he know about the outside? (FYI, I'm a very demanding reader.)
I received this book as a gift from my in-laws (thanks!!!) and started it right away. I'd been waiting a while to read it, and I wanted to peek inside Jack's world as fast as possible. Right away, the reader knows only what Jack knows. He's a captivating character, and quite lovable. Unlike most children his age, his imagination has limits. He has only known what he has seen and experienced in real life, inside the confines of this tiny space. He watches television sparingly, "because it rots our brains", and he has very clear definitions between what is Real and what is Pretend. He has no idea, like all children do, that his mother ("Ma") existed in the world before he was born, that she was not always Ma. He has no idea that before she was Ma, she was a young student, kidnapped and held prisoner in this tiny space. What he sees on TV is Pretend, so everything, from ice cream to cartoons to airplanes, is all made up. What he sees everyday, Bed, Table, Wall, Meltedy Spoon, is real, as real to him as Ma or Old Nick.
Old Nick, his mother's captor and caretaker. Immediately, the reader picks up on Jack's distaste for Old Nick and his visits. We are given few clues about Old Nick, and we never learn his real name, nor do we learn much about him at all. On one hand, I prefer it this way. The story is told by Jack, and we are only given details that Jack believes are important. On the adult hand, the parent in me is shocked and disturbed, and I want to know as much as I can about this grotesque human being so I can protect my family.
There is an immediate uneasiness in the novel, and as Jack dropped clues about his life, I grew increasingly horrified. Without revealing too many plot points, I can say that more characters are introduced, and Jack's world grows larger. These developments are thrilling and exciting, but also a little out of order, I think, for the characters and their world. Jack is somewhat developmentally delayed, despite his precocious nature, and the sudden introduction of new people and things previously thought to be Pretend doesn't seem to phase him as much as one would think. It all happens so quickly, and as a hungry and excited reader, I was left a little underwhelmed.
When Jack begins to explore his new world, as a reader I was left wondering about freedom. In that small space, his mother was confined and kept prisoner. Her freedom is sacred. But to Jack, he was free in Room. Everything made sense. Now, Outside, he is confused and scared, unsure about his new world and without the comfort objects he was so used to.
The book brings up a number of interesting, debatable topics: Love, codependent parent-child relationships, freedom. So far, I haven't found a good answer for any of them, but I do strongly recommend this book.