“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
― Emma Donoghue,
This is a book that stuck with me. I don’t know if it was because I have a child or just how real the story seemed, but it was one of those stories you couldn’t shake.
So the entire story is written from Jack’s point of view. Also, Jack happens to be 5 years old and has never left this Room. He was born there, he sleeps there, he eats there, and he plays there. For 5 years. The first reaction is “Poor boy” but we must remember: he doesn’t know anything better. There are no windows save for a skylight and he has never left. On the other side, his mother, Ma, is trapped in this room. She was not born in it and needs to get out of Room and go back to a life she knows.
So there are a few interesting things about this book that are weird but totally make sense because we are seeing everything through the eyes of a 5 year old. For one, Ma, does not have another name. I mean, she does, obviously, but we don’t know it by reading. “He called Ma her other name.” It’s as if he is rejecting the fact that Ma could be anyone besides Ma.
Another interesting thing is that we never learn Old Nick’s name. But it is not Nick. He was also maniacally smart in his efforts to keep Ma and Jack trapped. His cage, known as Room, was built with the intention of keeping a prisoner. The structure is completely stand-alone, the walls and ceiling are sound-proof, and the ground has chicken-wire that stops anyone from digging out. And this is all protected with a state-of-the-art keypad lock and the facade of a tool shed. Who would suspect a tool shed in a backyard? No one. That was Old Nick’s plan, and it worked for 7 years.
What I actually found fascinating was the developmental issues that Jack had to deal with in the real world. While Ma had made sure that he bathed, brushed his teeth, took his vitamins, read books, and even had “PE” in Room, there were things she couldn’t control. He had to wear sunscreen and sunglasses every time he went outside because he had never been exposed to direct sunlight. He had to wear a mask all the time because he had not developed a strong enough immune system to handle the regular world, much less a hospital. He kept bumping into things because he had been born and raised in a 9×9 room that never changed so he had trouble figuring out how to be aware of his surroundings. While all of these things make sense, it is interesting to think about what the transition to the world would actually mean.
And then there’s Ma. She experienced everything that you would expect from doing whatever she had to in order to save her child and being very protective of him and then the transition back to the real world was not what she had expected at all. For example, while she was thrilled to have a shower she still showered with her son. She still breastfed her son which was not widely accepted. She had to deal with the media and how to deal with them. She had a tough interview that reminded me of many from people in similar situations. She was defensive, guilty, upset, and ultimately, suicidal. While her attempt didn’t work, it showed that she finally had exactly what she wanted (freedom) and was having trouble accepting it.
Like I said, this book will stick with you. You will be stuck at work one day and complaining about being in a cubicle and remember that you have the option to walk out of it but Ma and Jack didn’t. It’s just an intriguing story that you never want to come true.