Jack is five. He has spent all his life in a single room, locked with his mom. He believes that the room is a whole world, and there’s nothing else. Until one day his mom thinks of a plan to run away, and tells him the world is a huge place with lots of people in it.
This is not an easy novel. It’s not an easy story, it was not an easy movie, and it’s not easy to review. First of all, deciding on narration solely by Jack was brave, but risqué. Not a lot of people know how to narrate from a child’s perspective, and not a lot of people do it well. Especially not such a small child. I have mixed feelings whether the author succeeded or not – mostly because I have no idea what I was thinking when I was five. But I felt it believable, I didn’t think Jack was written inconsistently and I think his voice was pretty realistic.
I did have, however, some troubles with getting through the first part of the book. There may be a few reasons. First of all, I had to get used to Jack telling the story, with all his mumblings and childish way of seeing the world. Secondly, the tasks that Ma and Jack did in “room” – which was a garden shed in reality – were mundane and made it hard to focus on the story, making me wait for some action to begin. But the third reason is, I think, the most important. I felt claustrophobic, and when they did get out, it felt like a breath of fresh air. From literary point of view, I guess that’s really good. I was supposed to feel the way they did, and I was supposed to feel emphatic towards them.
It did read better after their escape, the way Jack was reacting to the world, his feelings and thoughts about the surrounding and people he met were pretty well written, with a nice hint of humor.
I understand, though, how the book may awake love in some people, and hate in others. It’s not easy to read text that’s written entirely in child’s voice, text that sometimes is about poo and drinking from his Ma’s breast. I wouldn’t say I loved the book, but I’m rather one of those who can see and read between the lines, about what the grandparents must have felt, and the nurses, and the publicity, and all of it. Describing it from perspective of a child made it different, made it more horrifying.
There we come to why I have mixed feelings. I was missing Ma’s point of view. I understand the concept, we must leave something to the imagination, and the author wanted to just tell Jack’s story. I get it, and I don’t get it at the same time. There was so much potential in it, so many emotions that could emerge on the pages of the book, the love towards the child, and the hate to the way he was created. The fear and loneliness of a woman who was kidnapped and forced to live in a small room for 7 years. That could have been a great story of its own.
I understand, though, or at least partly, the author’s decision to make it Jack’s only.
Despite my small doubts, I still think this is a painful, but inspiring story, written with lots of sincere empathy. Inspiring, honest and gripping reading.