Room by Emma Donoghue
A couple of people in the Valley Book Club suggested this book to me, and its central idea was very intriguing, so I gave it a try. From the first chapter, I became totally engrossed, fascinated by the little boy who tells the story and by his love of a place he knows only as "Room."
Jack, the narrator, is a five-year-old boy who lives with his "Ma" in Room. He has never known any other world because he has never left Room - it and his Ma are the whole world. They are the world because Jack and his Ma are prisoners, kept hidden and enslaved by a man they call Old Nick, who abducted Ma when she when was 19.
You would expect such a story to be almost impossible to read because of its horror and brutality, right? But because of the secure little world that Ma has painstakingly created in Room for Jack, it is just not that kind of story. She makes Room seem normal so that Jack can stay with her and live a life free from the kind of fear and abuse that she herself lives with when Old Nick comes to "visit" her at night. She creates a structured day for him and teaches him what she can, like how to read and count and measure and all the names of things, which become like real, human names to Jack. His lamp is called Lamp and a wall is Wall. She teaches him about hygiene because if they get sick, they're on their own. But most of all, she teaches him about a love so strong, that even Old Nick cannot touch it.
Okay, now comes the spoiler alert. If you already love this premise and don't want to know anything else, stop reading here. But eventually, Jack and his mother find a way to escape Room, and the rest of the novel is about surviving Outside. How does a woman who has been a sexual slave and prisoner for seven years go back to life in the world as a daughter, a mother, and a friend? How can she cope with those who have the unmitigated gaul to criticize her parenting skills? How does a boy who has never seen grass or a tree and thinks that those things only live inside the TV deal with relatives, playgrounds, media attention, and the biggest of horrors - the mall?
Is this a happy, happy, everyone survives and all is great in the end story? Not really. But amid the horror and struggle is enough humor, strength, and beyond all, love, that it is a story you will not be able to put down or walk away from. Jack and Ma are characters you will remember for a lifetime. And that's a lifetime that from now on, I will be more grateful for.