Room: A Novel
by Emma Donoghue

Published: 2010-10-15
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Jack is five and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma ...
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Jack is five and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside... Told in Jack's voice, ROOM is the unsentimental and sometimes funny story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

Editorial Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary. Despite its profoundly disturbing premise, Emma Donoghue's Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live, even in the most desolate circumstances. A stunning and original novel of survival in captivity, readers who enter Room will leave staggered, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time. --Lynette Mong


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Discussion Questions

From Room's Official Web Site:

1.Why do you think the entire book is told in Jack’s voice? Do you think it is effective?
2.What are some of the ways in which Jack’s development has been stunted by growing up in Room? How has he benefited?
3.If you were Ma, what would you miss most about the outside world?
4.What would you do differently if you were Jack’s parent? Would you tell Jack about the outside world from the start?
5.If Ma had never given birth to Jack, what would her situation in Room be like?
6.What would you ask for, for Sundaytreat, if you were Jack? If you were Ma?
7.Describe the dynamic between Old Nick and Ma. Why does the author choose not to tell us Old Nick’s story?
8.What does joining the outside world do to Jack? To Ma?
9.What role do you think the media play in the novel?
10.In a similar situation, how would you teach a child the difference between the real world and what they watch on television?
11.Why are we so fascinated by stories of long-term confinement?
12.What were you most affected by in the novel?

Suggested by Members

What kind of follow up intervention do you think Ma and Jack will need for a very long time? (Psychiatric)
by overstock (see profile) 12/31/14

Point of view
Was Ma right in how she raised Jack
Could you have coped? How?
by ccoyne (see profile) 09/14/13

Grandma and Steppa's reaction to Ma and Jack. How did you feel about the time Jack spent at their house.
by gbierman (see profile) 06/12/12

We discussed how the book might change if one of the other characters was the narrator instead of five year old Jack. Also, we all wanted to smack the kidnapped girl's mother; she is a very unsympathetic character.
by skoomarm (see profile) 01/18/12

Would you have told your child about the outside world if you were in the same situation?
What are other ways that you would have tried to escape from the Room?
What are some things that would be helpful for both mom and son to adjust to the outside world?
by laurieleigh04 (see profile) 07/08/11

The plausibility of a 7 year captivity vs the level of trauma to the mother (initially).
by janannette (see profile) 07/01/11

Be prepared for a discussion on breastfeeding
Donoghue's website is full of wonderful information as well as an illustration of the room
Youtube provides several good interviews with Emma Donoghue
by ncvlib (see profile) 06/15/11

If you had foreknowledge of this story, how did that affect your reading enjoyment?
Was the attempted suicide, after so short a period, characteristic?
Why might breastfeeding be okay in this situation?
by Pam Jones (see profile) 05/12/11

I was surprised to learn how spatial perception was skewed because they were living out of one room. This led to a discussion about other elements we need to survive, like sunshine, socialization with peers.
We talked about child development and what an amazing job "Ma" did considering.
by poohnuts26 (see profile) 05/08/11

Do you think the fact that Jack's mother was adopted play a role in the novel?
by sbOtis (see profile) 03/28/11

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

From the Publisher:

Emma Donoghue on Room

‘Writing Room: Why and How’

By Emma Donoghue

Although I have often been inspired by real events from previous centuries, this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to tackle a subject from today's headlines. I was taken over by the idea of a child born into captivity and raised in secret isolation in the middle of a contemporary city, with everything he needs except one of the biggest things -- freedom. It struck me as one of those weird situations that can illuminate the human condition: Jack and Ma's story could turn out to be, in some sense, everybody's story.

I suppose the theme drew me irresistibly because I have two small children (a son who was four when I began Room in April 2008, and a daughter who was one -- they'll be six and three by the time the book is published). In my experience, the bond between mother and newborn creates a tiny, cozy world that gradually relaxes its magic to let the rest of the world in. But motherhood --even under ideal circumstances -- has elements of nightmare as well as fairytale, sci-fi as well as realism. It's a trip like no other, and it can occasionally feel (let's admit it, shall we, mothers of the world?) like a locked room. And so can childhood, as I recall: kids are stuck with the parents they get, just as we are stuck with them. So I suppose I wanted to explore the most bizarre of parent-child situations as a way of shedding new light on that most everyday, banal experience of raising kids.

Our culture is constantly telling stories about psychos who capture women. I deliberately kept my psycho out of the spotlight. The more I read and thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there is no comfortably fixed moral distance between a kidnapper and the rest of us. (The existence of entire slave-owning societies reminded me that humans often find it both convenient and pleasurable to own each other.) It was not Old Nick's evil that fascinated me, but the resilience of Ma and Jack: the nitty-gritties of their survival, their trick of more-or-less thriving under apparently unbearable conditions.

Room is a book about the smallest of worlds, and the biggest. Small worlds (such as couples, families, workplaces) have their pleasures as well as their irritations; big ones (cities, nations, the Internet) both attract and alienate. Some days we all feel trapped in our particular life circumstances, and other days we find there’s more freedom inside their limits, and more room inside our heads, than we ever knew.

Strange as it might seem, I found that writing historical fiction was the ideal preparation for Room. I decided that, as much as any medieval peasant or 18th-century prostitute, Jack should take his peculiar environment for granted. The main difference in my approach to the book was that this time I did my research not in archives and libraries but almost entirely online, and the whole first week of work, I kept bursting into tears. I forced myself to study the details of many cases of kidnapping-for-sexual-purposes from all over the world, and message boards gave me a fascinating lens into what these news stories mean to their audience. I flinched through every website I could find about children raised in limited or abusive settings -- both the children who are left stunted and those who are granted miraculous happy endings. I read about mothers and babies in prisons today and in Nazi concentration camps; about unassisted birth, children conceived by rape, family psychology and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not all my research was the kind that made me shudder. I drew on the different child rearing experiences of my friends -- for instance, one woman who breastfed her child till she was five. Just as for previous novels I put together a mini-dictionary of how people spoke in 1788 or 1864, this time I made myself a dictionary of my son's kid-English. I then narrowed it down to some classic errors and grammatical oddities that would not seriously confuse readers. I found inspiration in some great novels of parents and children in extremis, from We Need to Talk About Kevin to The Road, as well as fables of strangers moving between different societies, from Gulliver’s Travels to Robinson Crusoe to Brave New World. I looked up police slang and pop hits of the early 2000s. I picked my brother-in-law’s brains on the matter of how Old Nick could have created a secure prison from a garden shed, and I designed Room itself using a home-decor website.

Does that sound flippant? My characters taught me that you get your laughs where you can. Jack’s magpie spirit -- his scavenging of facts, fantasies and sensory stimuli -- infected me, and so did his sense of humour. Children are passionate but unsentimental in dealing with whatever kind of life is handed to them, so I tried to be too. I drafted Room in six months; this is the easiest book I have ever written, because I knew what I wanted it to be.

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