Room – Emma Donoghue

Room - a must-read of recent years

Room – a must-read of recent years

Jack, the narrator, is five years old and lives with his Ma in Room.  In his world, they are the only people that really exist.  His friends are the characters on his favourite TV programmes, programmes which depict a world that doesn’t exist for Jack.  The only other person he is aware of is Old Nick, the man who comes at night, after he has gone to sleep in a wardrobe, in order to visit Ma.

What we, the readers understand is that Jack’s Ma had been abducted at aged 19 and has been held captive by a rapist, Old Nick – Jack’s father.  This story was written is response to the Fritzl case and as such I found it quite sensationalised. However, there’s a definite charm to this story, perhaps most evident in the unwavering love between mother and son.

Even though they live in an 11foot square shed, Jacks Ma insists he keeps fit, running in circuits round Room as PE, eating as healthy a diet as possible and educating him with story books and TV.  When events lead Ma to realise that another escape attempt is their only option, she confides in Jack that there is an outside world which they have to get to.  Everything Jack believes now comes into question and initially he finds it impossible to comprehend an outside world.  Slowly but surely, Ma convinces him that what she says is true and he must be instrumental in their escape.

There were certain details in this book that really impressed me.  Upon escaping (sorry if that spoils it) Jack eyesight is tested.  As he has grown up in a small room, he cannot focus on objects in the distance.  When he arrives at a staircase, he has no idea how to deal with it.  Little aspects like this convinced me that heaps of research had been done into the Fritzl case and others like it and, as such, this book wasn’t such a cynical cash-in as I’d originally thought, rather a touching tale of love under adverse conditions and the indomitable will to survive.

Sample Text:

“Also everywhere I’m looking at kids, adults mostly don’t seem to like them, not even the parents do. They call the kids gorgeous and so cute, they make the kids do the thing all over again so they can take a photo, but they don’t want to actually play with them, they’d rather drink coffee talking to other adults. Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even hear.”

Further Reading:

If you like the theme of lost innocence you might like Push

If you like the theme of a child’s survival in adverse conditions you might like Zlatas Diary

If you like the theme of unwavering parental love you might like The Scarlet Letter


The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton

the-outsiders-by-s-e-hintonS.E. Hinton was a teenager when this book was written.  It was written as a reaction to a friend being beaten up because of the way he looked.  Since then it has become a ‘must read’ across American high schools, one of whom campaigned successfully for Francis Ford Copolla to turn it into a film.  Not bad for a teenager.  Perhaps more surprising is that S.E. Hinton is a girl.  The publishers decided to use only initials as they thought if the readers knew it was by a girl they would doubt its authenticity.

The story is essentially Ponyboy’s story.  He is a ‘greaser’ – the greasy quaffed haired, denim clad gang from the wrong side of town. Their rivals are the ‘socs’ – the society boys with neat hair, slacks and money.  When Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny are beaten up by the socs, their self-defence means they have to run away, leaving behind Ponyboys brothers Darry and Sodapop and the rest of their greaser friends.

This is a very easy story to read, and not too long either.  I chose to read it purely because I’d liked the film and was surprised by how true to the book the film is.  It’s heartbreaking at times as the greasers try and get by in life without any trouble, only to find trouble finds them anyway due to their lowly standing in society.  Yet the bond between them is so strong they form their own ‘family’, with all the responsibilities, irritations and loyalties that entails.

It’s clear from the outset that things are not going to end happily for the greasers, they live in a world where dreams are useless, condemned to the vicious circle of poverty and repression with only each other for company.  Yet, as readers we get to see how they really are, the people rather than the image.  It’s an important lesson to learn, perhaps explaining why it’s on the curriculum for so many US high schools; don’t judge a book by its cover. (I’m not talking literally of course; I judge books by their cover all the time!)

Sample Text:

“That’s why people don’t ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around – half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I’ve heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean – but people usually go by looks.”

Further Reading:

If you like the theme of teenagers trying to fit in you might like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

If you like the setting of small-town USA you might like Rabbit Run