Room by Emma Donoghue

By Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown Company
ISBN13: 9780316098335
Pages: 321
Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction


To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.


“Stories are a different kind of true.”
Room is Jack and Ma’s story. It is the tale of a young woman held captive for 7 years where she eventually gives birth to Jack. Jack is a lively and naively happy young boy who has just turned 5. Room is his life. It is his existence. It is the home that his abducted and imprisoned mother has chosen to build for him. He knows of nothing else outside of the four walls surrounding them and the objects contained within.
One day however, Ma makes the courageous decision that it is time to leave Room. She works with Jack to devise a way out. But how do you prepare a child to enter a world they have never known to exist? How do you reenter a world you have not seen for so many years?
I have sat for several days fighting with this post. A part of me felt obligated/compelled to love this book because of what it is and represents. Yet I simply do not love it. I am not even sure that I like it. This review has nearly wrecked me this week. Maybe it is more honest to say that I respect Room at best.
I read somewhere once that Room was loosely inspired by the harrowing tale of Elisabeth Fritzl who was held captive by her father for 24 years, birthing 7 children. It certainly also conjures thoughts of other similar cases to mind. All of which have made headlines and often other forms of media. So what makes Room different? Is it different? Well sure. There are a few things that arguably standout about this title. But are they enough?
I am giving recognition to the author for two factors here:
  1. She has chosen to approach an unsettling but forever relevant topic.
  2. The choice of narration was a very audacious one.

Bad things exist. There will always be a lurking evil within this world and dangers untold. Therefore, I feel that the need to share and explore those events is critical for a variety of reasons. And I feel that Donoghue has accomplished that to an extent with Room. She has presented a story that dares to tackle what happens to the victim in a very distinctive manner. She has almost successfully explored the human psych through Ma and Jack’s lives. I even applaud her ability to do so with very minuscule mention of “Old Nick” their captor, keeping the reader’s focus drawn appropriately to the victims. While we are forever aware of “Old Nick”, we remain fully engaged in the life of Jack and his Ma. We begin to observe their unsettling reality from a new angle. A reality where life in captivity has been accepted and established as a means of survival.

“’You’re not afraid of monsters, are you?’
‘It depends on the monster, if it’s a real one or not and if it’s where I am.’”

 For many it will be Jack’s voice that stands out. Choosing to narrate the entire story through voice of our young protagonist offers a lot of potential. It is a decision that also poses a lot of risk. This choice ultimately sets the stage for the reality of what Room is. Room is world. Room is life. We are hand delivered an unsettling situation that is a little easier to digest due to Jack’s simplistic innocence. A technique I found to be working very well until roughly the 30% mark.

Here is where I am sure many of you might find yourself in disagreement with me. But I began to tire heavily of the childish and slow narration. Often I found myself questioning Jack’s age with the choice of dialog and behavior. I had to pause and constantly remind myself that this was a child raised in complete isolation. It is not fair to compare him to a normal 5 yr old, but at times I could not help but still do so. I know this detracted from the story and was of my own fault. But it just felt “off”. Even given the extreme situation, there was something about Jack and Ma that was no longer clicking for me. I found myself questioning a lot of elements that I felt I should not have. Such as why a mother waits 5 years before making the break? Was this based upon Jack’s own capabilities? Maybe. What was it that triggered this action? Was it concerns for her own failing health? A little more input from Ma here could have been of the most benefit.

I found Jack unable to accurately convey his mother’s true emotions. I was left with an entire half of this story that simply was not being provided in a manner that I could connect with. And for me, it was an important half. I needed it. I did not get it. It was too one-sided.

This soon escalated into an uphill trek. I had to convince myself that I would see this through. So I did. Presented in an unforgivably slow pace that never wavered, the end effect was flat. The atmosphere became devoid of emotion. How did this happen, I asked. Between these pages should lie feelings of compassion, anger, fear..  Yet I was grasping and finding I continued to come back empty-handed. Where was my empathy?

A sliver of redemption came within the last portion of Room. It was the marginally realistic portrayal of trauma and dissociation that was unveiled once Jack and Ma left Room behind that I found of some value. My interest was rekindled for a fleeting moment but also dwindled just as fast.

My time with Room was ordinary when I felt it should have been profound and much deeper. Overall, I felt disconnected and exhausted by the conclusion of Ma and Jack’s story. No specific recommendations for this one.

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64 thoughts on “Room by Emma Donoghue

  1. It’s funny because I watched the movie version of this a few weeks ago, honestly the book has just never appealed to me, and whilst I did find it emotional I had similar issues with it as you’ve had with the book. I felt like there were huge gaps in the knowledge we had as viewers, that some things just didn’t sit right with me even for such an extreme and unusual situation, and actually once they were out of the room I had the most issues with the story it just didn’t hold together well at all. I thought it was bad scriptwriting but maybe it’s just it wasn’t in the book in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seemed to leave too many holes for me. I felt like maybe if the author had alternated between Ma and Jack I could have taken more from it. The pace never changes. I just had no emotional investment, which is odd for a book based on such a difficult subject matter. I am glad that you were able to enjoy the film though!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really liked this review. I picked up this book from the library probably two years ago. I read the first little bit, not going to lie it was probably under 30 pages. But I couldn’t get into the narration coming from a young kid. Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t like that. I have since considered trying again with it, then I think I know there are books on my shelf that I am going to love I’m not picking it up again to try and make myself love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am happy to know that I am not alone on this. There was certainly a solid intention with the choice of narration, but it fell through for me. I needed to hear from Ma. Maybe then it would have pulled at me a bit more. And the pacing was honestly so slow!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good review. I watched the film recently, which I found I did have a connection with, but that was likely due to the talents of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, and it has made me want to read the book. Though I know now perhaps not to have too-high expectations, or that the book may not perhaps have the same effect that I thought the film had.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have not watched the film, but after discussing it with a few who have it seems that perhaps the choice of narration for the book creates a somewhat different experience. You never know though. I see rave reviews, but it simply was not for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even if I don’t agree 😊 I still love your honest review Danielle. I understand your thoughts about Jack and the childish voice becoming a bit too much but I thought it was kind of clever to let him narrate; because of his innocence and unawereness of the situation he was able to touch me extra hard while the normal, grown-up perspective perhaps wouldn’t have had the same effect on me. This really was an emotional book (and movie) for me. A monster calls was also a bit like this.. Well you love some, you hate some, it’s the same here 😉.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is one of my favorite reviews of yours Danielle! You’re so respectfully honest and I completely agree with your points and applaud you for actually finishing the book!! When it came out and was so popular I picked it up, read about 5 pages…I’m not exaggerating…and literally thought I’d poke my eyes out if I continued to read a book narrated by a 5 year old. I know that’s harsh but I thought it was awful. And like you said, I felt bad for feeling this way because of the subject matter but I passed it by and didn’t regret it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Renee!! I struggled so much. Part of me wanted to just close it and be done while part of me almost felt ashamed because I could find no emotion in this. I think maybe the choice of having Jack narrate would have actually worked if she had alternated it with his mother. Jack being so young and naive could not convey the necessary emotion.


      1. While I liked it being told from Jack’s perspective I can totally understand that it’s not for everyone. Actually, when it first was published, I was still a librarian and one of co-workers and I created a book blog for our library. We both read Rooms and wrote a review for it with me liking it and her barely getting through it.And we both usually liked the same books, so that goes to show you! BTW, how are you? Are you feeling better?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is the beauty of reading though huh! I love seeing the contrasting opinions and thoughts. Sometimes I enjoy reading reviews that actually go against my own thoughts on a book more 😉

          I am doing ok. Just much fatigue. Time for lab work again I think. Probably the anemia and such. You know how it is to be tired ❤ I hope you have been doing well yourself. How are the headaches lately?

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent review Danielle! You managed to capture exactly what I felt about this book as well. Something WAS missing! & we did loses bit by getting the story from the child’s perspective. I asked myself many times why Ma never attempted to leave Room & tried my hardest not to judge her. I found I couldn’t really understand her since I wasn’t getting her POV. It would’ve made for a more interesting read had we been able to read her thoughts & emotions. Perhaps a dual POV btwn Ma & Jack would’ve better worked out. I doubt I’ll ever watch the movie, seeing as some that have commented found the same issues with it. Loved your review 🙌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review! I must say I can’t really understand why the author chose to write the whole thing from the perspective of a 5-year-old. She was always going to have to only show a very limited part of the story or else make the boy understand things a child of that age simply wouldn’t, especially, as you point out, a boy brought up in more or less total isolation. There’s a modern tendency for authors to pick quirky perspectives and story-telling techniques, but personally I find this a total distraction. If the story is strong enough, then a plain telling of it is best, in my opinion. This one has never appealed to me, and your review has convinced me I’ve made the right decision… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, what a great and honest review. I struggled with the narration, perhaps even more so as I was listening to the audiobook version on a cross country drive and I really had a hard time with the woman doing a 5 year old boy’s voice. But since I didn’t have any other options I kept going and eventually I settled in to it. I ended up really enjoying this book but it’s been a few years now so I can’t remember enough details to comment on it more. Thank you for this great review, it’s refreshing to hear other points of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Melanie. I can see how it would be hard to settle into an adult narrating as a child for sure. I am glad though that you found appreciation for it in the end. I just struggled with several factors. I am not sure if I will approach her other work anytime soon. But maybe in the future to see how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love your analysis of your experience with the book! So thorough and clear! I have stayed away from this story for a reason I can’t explain, but I totally understand your points. It was an interesting choice to narrate the book through a little boy’s voice but there are limits to it and it seems it wasn’t able to spark anything more than a bit of interest from your part. I like that the focus was on the victims, but Jack as the sole narrator is bound to only be able to give a half of the story and miss feelings that would have been more accurately expressed by the mother, with an insight and deeper understanding of the whole situation. I loved your review, and I think I’ll stick with my first impression and leave this book at the bookstore!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have pretty much summed it up Twin Pea. It was super limited with the narration choice. But I also admired the decision to keep the story focused entirely on the victims. It is a PoV that should not be over looked. I just wish the mother would have had a voice. Thank you ❤


  10. I remember the Fritzel case, shocking and terrible. Just because a book deals with something like that though, or anything else of import and relevance, it doesn’t automatically mean that the book will be good and you will think it is good, it’s life, even books that tackle tough subjects can’t all be winners, praise of course to any author who tackles a taboo and hard subject but if the book isn’t for you then that’s fine to. Great and honest review as always for a book you obviously struggled to review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ugh… I know the feeling of fighting with a review… sometimes, writing a difficult review sits on your chest like mucus cough… however, having said that, I found your thoughts on the book really really interesting and your honesty is something that I can totally respect and appreciate… I haven’t read the book, nor am I planning to, and I agree with what Drew said- just because it’s an important subject matter doesn’t mean it makes the book good by default. Sorry you had to struggle with this read and I hope your current/next read is better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. And I try to give extra consideration when authors make bold efforts and take the leap. Clearly the approach is working for far more people than it isn’t from what I see. So she seems to be doing very well, even if I disliked it 😉


  12. Well, well, well! I love how honest you are throughout this review. You even gave it “respect” points before laying out the truth regarding how you felt about Jack and Ma! I fall among the people who actually enjoyed both book and movie though… I can understand how the narration makes it so much harder for a lot of people to be able to empathize with the mother, feel connected to anything. I honestly was drawn in by the narration and sort of quickly gotten used to it and ended up loving how the world was seen through his eyes. I didn’t so much focus on how her mother felt about the whole thing, but when the boy ATTEMPTS to analyze the situation, I always felt like that was “ENOUGH” information for me. I would’ve recommended the movie just to see Brie Larson’s performance as Ma. I wasn’t too fond of the kids performance in the movie cause… it really came down to a lot of screaming, which… any kid could’ve done. The movie also doesn’t do a DIRECT adaptation, the first half is pretty accurate to the book, but the second of the book wasn’t directly put onto screen/some scenes were cut out. Well, I’m pretty glad you were honest about how you felt about this though! I always thought this book could have easily been hated by other readers, and voila! Found someone who did for definitely understandable reasons! 😀 Fantastic review, Danielle! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Lashaan! I love kicking thoughts around with opposing views! I am also going to admit that maybe as a mother, I was overly critical of certain traits with Jack and Ma. But again, super bold move on the author’s part.

      It is funny that you mention the last half of the film deviated. I have heard that is was disappointing from several viewers and that the first half of the film was much better. It was the opposite in the book for me. I wonder if this is due to the changes made for the film?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think the movie did anything wrong with how they adapted the book. The scenes in the book (after their escape and Jack’s adventures in the outside world) would’ve been a bit too draggy if they were shown on screen. The movie shortens that and goes “full circle” with the ending. I wasn’t disappointed by it. As for the book, I actually found some scenes as expendable (like the whole mall thing). Those extra couple of scenes made me feel like the book sort of dragged a little too much when it could’ve went directly to the ending. I guess Room is definitely something that people should experience for themselves to know how they feel about the narration. The author totally took on a challenge doing what she did. A super bold move, it was. 😀

        – Lashaan

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Great review 🙂 I quite liked the novel, I think because I’d also just been hearing about and learning about cases where women have been kept in captivity. I kind of used the kid’s perspective to guess at or imagine what the mum was feeling or going through.

    Can definitely see both sides, though! It’s a very interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah! I can definitely appreciate how this did work very well for so many. Always disappointing though when we do not click with something as well as we expect. I think I went into this expecting something entirely different. I am glad to see it delivered for you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s one of those good and bad things about reading, I think! Enjoyment of a novel is so subjective. Moby Dick is considered a classic but it bored me half to sleep! Same with anything I’ve tried to read by Charles Dickens. They’re meant to be so good but I just don’t relate to them at all.

        I found that with 13 Reasons Why as well, actually. I really hated the girl the book was based around so I found I couldn’t enjoy the novel at all.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I found her to be very self-righteous and frustrating. Basically blaming everyone else and leaving a massive burden on their shoulders that wasn’t necessarily their’s to carry. It frustrated me to no end.


  14. This review is very thoughtful. The “willing suspension of disbelief” aspect can be a struggle with the first person narrative of a child for sure. I also appreciate that they can be very hard to write. One of the biggest criticisms of Ender’s Game was that “kids don’t talk like that” (somehow I was able to let that go) and when we read “My Grandmother Says to Tell You She’s Sorry” my book club had a similar criticism. It’s no easy feat to balance a child’s perspective and convey everything that needs to be conveyed for a story. Thanks for the great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Any type of child abuse and/or neglect typically effects me very hard, so I do not read books that center around this topic. I have read books where it is included, but I just can’t read books where it is the focus. Books like this one and A Child Called It are probably books I’ll never pick up.

    “I found Jack unable to accurately convey his mother’s true emotions. I was left with an entire half of this story that simply was not being provided in a manner that I could connect with. And for me, it was an important half. I needed it. I did not get it. It was too one-sided.”

    Maybe if the author had chose to tell the story with alternating perspectives between Jack and his mother this would have helped?

    Liked by 1 person

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