Friday, January 14, 2011

Ruminations on Room

A while back Little, Brown sent us a copy of Emma Donoghue's grown-up novel Room, with a note saying they're hoping to increase the novel's readership. An international bestseller since its publication in August, Room's readers are already millions strong -- what LB is looking for with a Horn Book review is not a larger audience so much as a younger one.

Room is narrated by five-year-old Jack, whose perspective naturally lingers on five-year-old concerns, e.g. what happens to poo when you flush the toilet, where Dora the Explorer goes when she's not in TV, and how soon he can open his birthday presents. What quickly becomes apparent is how Jack's perspective differs from his mother's. He sees Room: a world containing cozy Bed and Rug, toys he and Ma have made themselves, a mysterious visitor who sometimes arrives in the night while Jack hides in Wardrobe (but who, more importantly, delivers the much-anticipated weekly Sundaytreat).

Ma sees the eleven-foot square garden shed where a kidnapper/rapist has held her captive for seven years.

While things do change radically partway through the novel, Jack and Ma's lives are still far from hunky-dory -- and yet this is ultimately a heartbreakingly hopeful novel about love and the resilience of childhood.

Room received an Alex award on Monday, marking it as a book "written for adults that [has] special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Despite LB's note, the award, and my own enjoyment of the novel, I have my reservations about encouraging teens to read it. Readers at the younger end of the Alex age range may not be able to read between the lines of Jack's narrative, in which case the story loses much of its power. Those who do see through Jack's perspective to Ma's may be disturbed by what's really happening: kidnapping, rape, imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, crippling depression, media exploitation. The reader's task of bridging the disconnect between Jack's reality and Ma's is itself emotionally difficult. It forces the reader to give up a sort of innocence in gaining the understanding that Jack's world is different, darker, than it appears through his eyes.

Then again, Room is not a book for every adult reader, either; perhaps teens who can stomach the brutality of Tender Morsels or Beloved for the beauty in those novels will be drawn to Room as well.

What do you think -- have you read Room? What age readers would you recommend it to?

-- Katie Bircher

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is on the same level as John Boyne's "Boy in striped pyjamas" which he did not write as a childrens' book and which various interests in the book world keep pushing indiscriminately as a 'childrens' book.'
    'Room' is a much better book with a much more believable premise; but is also horrifying and tender and brave at the same time. I would not expect anyone under 16 yrs to appreciate it or be subjected to the long lasting haunting and shuddering that occurs after you have finished reading it. Initially I thought it sounded like a rather silly, unappealing plot outline but now see it as one of the best books I've read in years - and I read a lot!