Room by Emma Donoghue: Book Review

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Cover of Room by Emma Donoghue

4 Stars
Five-year-old Jack has lived his entire life inside Room with his Ma. At night, Old Nick comes to visit while Jack sleeps in Wardrobe. Jack’s life is strictly regimented. Breakfast, Lunch, Phys Ed, TV, and Screaming are at certain times throughout the day. In his world, there’s himself, Ma, and Room and that’s pretty much it. Old Nick is sort of real, but everything else is just TV. Other kids, grass, fancy toys, dads, everything.

Shortly after his fifth birthday, Ma starts telling Jack stories about Outside. He thinks they’re only stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” at first, but when Ma insists that they’re true, he first gets upset and then tries his best to believe her. He just can’t conceive of the outside world. When Ma tells him that they have to try to escape from Room, he falls apart on her.

Wow. This was tough. Emotionally, I mean. It’s written from Jack’s point of view, and while he’s an extremely intelligent little boy, he is still only five. But realizing how small his world is, and how he and Ma came to be inside Room was nerve-wracking and exhausting. Realizing that the game that Jack calls “Screaming” is Ma’s desperate way to try to draw attention to themselves and their prison is heart-breaking.

Speaking of that, I thought the author did a very good job of letting Jack tell what he innocently sees while letting her adult readers figure out the darker meaning of what he doesn’t understand. There’s the Screaming thing, and there’s the way he says something like, “Old Nick always goes to bed and then creaks it. I count it. Tonight it’s 217 times.” Jack doesn’t understand, but readers know exactly what’s happening to Ma. I’m glad that it wasn’t spelled out any more clearly. This was hard enough to take. It would have been almost unbearable from Ma’s point of view.

Toward the end, Ma and Jack both started irritating me a little bit. I completely understood where they were coming from, but their reactions just rubbed me the wrong way.

I listened to this book and Michal Friedman did a fantastic job as Jack. She sounded like a five-year-old little boy to me. I actually went looking for more information to find out if the narrator really was a child. Ma did a good job too. I do wish there had been two male narrators. It was hard to hear Old Nick’s voice coming from another character.

There was one time when I did wish I had a physical copy of the book so I could flip ahead and see what happened. I never flip ahead, but the tension was getting excruciating! I sat in the parking lot at the gym for half an hour listening to this book at one point because it was practically impossible for me to turn it off at that part.

I hate to mention this, but it bothered me, so here goes. Jack is still breast-feeding, which I can understand in an abstract kind of way, but I really did not need to hear him saying, “I had the left. It was creamy.” Really? And not once, but many, many times. I know I should just let Ma put me in my place when she says, “Out of this whole terrible story, that’s the disturbing part?” and move on, but I can’t. No, it wasn’t disturbing, but it was distracting and, I thought, unnecessary.

I do recommend this on audio or in print if you think you can handle it. It’s not graphic in any way, but it will still push buttons for some people. I’m so glad I got to see the world through Jack’s eyes though. He makes you appreciate things that you take for granted every day.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Emma Donoghue on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Buy Room at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. I enjoyed this book although it seemed to drag near the end… truthfully I didn't really notice the breastfeeding – I just took it as what a child in that situation would react like… Thanks for the review – recommend it as well

  2. both my wife & I couldn't get into this book, which was a shame after all the good write ups I'd seen

  3. It wasn't even so much that he was 5 (under the circumstances), it was just the constant, "Can I have some? The left was creamy. I had lots." TMI!

  4. LOL – the breast feeding bothered me too. When I wrote my review I had a spoiler page and I interviewed the author. She said she was really surprised how the US reacted to the five year old breast feeding.

  5. I read this in 2010 and it became one of the best of the year. I've noticed it became one of the books I recommend most often.

  6. Great review! I completely agree about the breastfeeding thing. It makes sense that she would still breastfeed her son, but reading the details was a little nauseating.

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