Room is nothing like her British historical fiction.
NOTE: The author has asked me to warn readers about spoilers here, though personally I don't think I could write this review without giving away the important bits of information below.
Room is narrated by Jack, a 5-year-old who lives with his mother in a shack, where they are kept imprisoned by Jack's father. Jack's mother was kidnapped seven years ago, and all of Jack's life he's been in an 11-ft square room. It's all he's ever known. But one day his mother comes up with an escape plan, and she and Jack finally get to leave Room. But living in the big world outside is difficult, with so much noise, so many people, and tons of space. Jack and his mother have difficulty adjusting to life outside the room, and a life that involves so many other people and things than just each other.
It is odd to say that this book disturbed me in all the right ways. But it did. I was uncomfortable almost the entire way through. Kidnapping and rape are two of those topics that your mind tries very hard to slip away from, almost never even letting you contemplate the course either one can lead down. This whole book, though, is about those two things, and as you read it, your mind is forced to confront those issues it tries so hard to avoid.
It isn't that this book is graphic. As it's told from Jack's point of view, we don't hear about the emotional trauma his mother must have felt. We don't get many details about the actual kidnapping or the imprisonment. We just get a 5-year-old's sense of bewilderment as he discovers a world much larger than he expected, and his difficulty in accepting that his mother isn't just his any more. In a way, this is even harder to take. I don't know many 5-year-olds, but I think Jack was very authentic and true to form. Sometimes he was a complete sweetheart and sometimes he was extremely aggravating. One of the most disturbing aspects of the book to me was all the really odd things Jack did that he thought were completely normal. For example, he still breast-feeds from his mother, even though he's five years old. He doesn't like people touching him, but he refuses to sleep in his own bed or take a bath without his mother in the tub with him. In many ways, I was very uncomfortable with the relationship between Jack and his mother, but I also know that Jack's mom (we never learn her name- she is just Ma) had to make a lot of difficult decisions and I have no right to pass judgment on what to me seemed a really creepily co-dependent situation.
Luckily, there is much more to this book than just the breast-feeding at age 5! There is a very sympathetic portrait of a woman trying to get her life back after seven years, now with a lot of emotional baggage, a lot of media attention, and a child. There is a boy who has never in his life seen more than two other people, suddenly thrust into a world where he is a celebrity. There is a family, coming to grips with once again seeing someone they thought lost (think The Face on the Milk Carton, but for an adult and a small child).
In a way, I don't even know what else to say to review this book because it is so hard for my brain to focus on the subject matter for any length of time. It's an emotionally-charged, high-impact book. It will terrify you and disturb you, but it will also draw you into Jack's world completely.
This review is based on an advanced reader's copy. I received this book for free to review. The book will be released in September.