February 6, 2012
Imagine a Room

Some of the most thought-provoking and discussion-stimulating books in our Novel Conversations collection revolve around difficult issues, aspects of life that we might not want to face but that are nonetheless real. Like me, I’m sure you have seen news articles about young women who have been kidnapped or somehow disappeared on the way home. These are heartbreaking stories, but they happen frequently, even in our own state.

ROOM by Emma Donoghue is about one such woman, but it is not told by her. The narrator is her five-year-old son, Jack, a child born while she was in captivity in a shed in her kidnapper’s backyard. This book is a genuine page-turner. I read a fair amount of it while standing in our stacks because I picked it up to shelve it, flipped it open and then just had to find out what happened to the boy and his mother.

The story is divided into three parts, each of which is fascinating in a different way. The first part is a story of survival under extreme conditions. It describes how the kidnapped woman, whom Jack calls “Ma,” has not only coped with her bizarre circumstances but has faced the problem of every mother – how to give her child the best life possible. How can she use the meager resources and limited connection with the outside world (primarily via television) available to her? What lessons can she teach her son, and how can she create a “normal” life for him?

The second part of the story, concerning their escape, is a thriller, and you will find it very hard to put the book down while reading about little Jack’s courageous struggle to get away from their kidnapper. Donoghue makes this episode scary but completely mesmerizing.

The third part of the book concerns what happens next. Here the author imagines how mother and child deal with the aftermath of their escape attempt. Like the other two parts, this part is full of emotional crises, with twists and turns in the plot. Throughout the novel, Donoghue sustains the tour-de-force telling of the story from Jack’s viewpoint and in his young voice.

Our copies of ROOM were donated by the Wells County Public Library. Stephanie Davis, the director, wrote: “We created a full-scale layout of the room in our library and offered tie-in programs on recycling and remote control cars.  It had wide appeal and stimulated much discussion. “

A lifestyle where there are so few things in the environment that each one has a name may be hard to imagine, but Donoghue did it and brilliantly.

This What-Are-You-Reading post was written by Nancy Conner, director of grants at Indiana Humanities and coordinator of Novel Conversations.

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