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Room by Emma Donaghue

picture of book cover

One of the effects of reading a lot is almost everything you read reminds you of something else.

Often, this is flattering, like to realize Susan Isaacs is as adroit about writing about upper society as Jane Austen, or that that a fair number of young adult writers owe Laurie Halse Anderson a debt of gratitude for Speak bringing teenage date rape out of the shadows.

So I realize it is unfair to say that the first two halves of Room: A Novel reminded me of the abysmal Flowers in the Attic, where four children are literally trapped in an attic by their mother and have to survive. Yes, I know the two writers aren't in the same ballpark in terms of their skill or style. But for sheer creepiness and the feeling in the reader of claustrophobia, that's what my mind harkened back to. The only message I have for that is Mamas, don't let your babies grow up reading V.C. Andrews.

Putting that aside, Room is a powerful story of an abduction told through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy. Early on, you learn that Jack lives in a small room with his mother, never being allowed outside, but creating a wonderfully vivid interior life. They are held captive by a man who kidnapped Jack's mother seven years ago, largely a spectral presence known as "Old Nick."  By telling the story through Jack, a brave choice, the reader can see the joy he takes in everything from a birthday cake to a favorite book. You also see his mother's increasing panic through an outside lens.

It's a powerful story, and one that makes you reflect on how children and adults view the world. I have a lot of respect for Room and the numerous accolades it has won. I would take it over The Finkler Question anyday. But while Room is a fine way to spend a Saturday, I don't consider it a "must-read." If you gave me a choice, I'd push So Much for That into your laps over Room.