Blog Archives

Hot Off the Press: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma DonoghueWhere I got it and why: I’d gone down to the library to stock up on comic books, but alas, all I could find was this book I’d put on my List because it won the Bord Gáis Irish Book Award…

Recommended? Dear god yes. This book is incredible.

Summary: graciously provided by Goodreads

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.

Review: Room is told entirely from Jack’s point of view, which is an absolute stroke of genius for a book that could otherwise so easily become a melodramatic mess. I don’t think I’ve ever read a five-year-old written so convincingly. Jack is smart, curious, devious, adorable — even I liked him, and I don’t usually care for children, fictional or otherwise. Oh, and Jack is brave, incredibly brave for carrying through his Ma’s escape plan while he still only vaguely understands that there is something to escape to or from.

I’m a little afraid of giving away too much of the plot, because I read this book in three large gulps (interrupted only by food and sleep) and I remember it largely as a glorious experience of discovery. Rather like being a five-year-old, actually. Not everything discovered is good, and certainly Jack doesn’t like it all (he’s not terribly fond of wind the first time he meets it), but it’s all thrilling.

My favorite thing about Room, though, was Ma. Although she has a name and I’m sure it’s mentioned in the text, Jack thinks of her just as Ma, and, with good reason, she’s thought of herself as Ma for the past five years – five years spent in awful captivity. She’s twenty-six, but the last time she was in the world she was nineteen and just going to college. Now she’s a mother and a victim and a survivor and a celebrity, and while she doesn’t handle it all perfectly or with absolute grace, she handles it, and I think that’s really the most important part. She handles it, and she’s amazing, and (not to spoil you or anything) she and Jack are going to be okay.

For a book with such a bleak premise, Room is really amazingly uplifting and optimistic. (I shy away from that horrible word “heartwarming,” but I think it’s that too.) Don’t mistake this for a Lifetime movie; it’s plenty gritty and awful in parts. But Room is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read at all.

 

Room by Emma Donoghue was published by Little, Brown & Company on September 13th, 2010. Find it on: Goodreads, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble.

Advertisements

New to Me: Review of Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Looking for JJ by Anne CassidyWhere I got it and why: I needed some good storytelling, and when I want just plain storytelling I always turn to YA. I pulled a couple of books from The List to request from the library, and this was one of them. (I’m sure I heard of it originally from a book blog, but I just can’t remember which one…)

Recommended? Yes, particularly if you like true crime (which this book has much more in common with than a murder mystery, although it is a novel)

Review: Six years ago, ten year old Jennifer Jones killed her best friend. Now Alice Tully is trying to build a new life for herself. She’s got a job at a coffee shop, a boyfriend, and a good shot at normality, but will she get to keep any of it?

This book has the least convoluted plot but the most interesting structure of anything I’ve read recently. The story itself is straightforward, an excruciatingly sympathetic portrayal of a young woman who had killed someone when she was only a child, and how she attempts to deal with that and the normal problems of adolescence. We’re introduced to Alice Tully first, and as her past slowly begins to creep up on her, we flash back in more and more extensive detail to her childhood and the terrible event that defines her life.

Within the first couple of chapters I realized that this book is actually a fictionalization of the famous case of Mary Bell, which I read about earlier this year in Gitta Sereny’s incomparable Cries Unheard. Cassidy changed some details for her YA novel, which I was originally a little annoyed by, since I do think some of them are substantial to the meaning of the case – the victim being much younger versus roughly the same age, the degree of abuse the girl suffered in her home life – but then I realized that what Cassidy did was tone it down to the point where it was actually readable. I know I found Cries Unheard to be extremely tough going, and on reflection I can’t imagine some of those things being included in any novel, never mind a YA novel.

As you have probably concluded by now, Looking for JJ is one of those YA novels people have been complaining about lately, one of those things saturated with darkness. But it’s saturated with something else, too – empathy. This is a story about someone who has done something horrible and knows it, about coming to terms with that and learning how to move on even though she can never forget or atone. It’s also a story about learning how and why she could have done such a thing, and doing her best to make sure she would never do something like that again, even though that means making impossibly hard choices. It’s incredibly grown-up stuff, but as the fact that it’s based on a true story makes obvious, it’s not stuff that only grown-ups have to deal with.

I found this not only a good read, but an important book, the kind of book that librarians ought to keep on the YA shelves because there might be a kid out there who needs it. Looking for JJ is not trying to prove anything, it has no secret agenda or ultimately uplifting message, but it’s a book full of compassion for damaged people. It is an example of the best of what dark YA can do.

 

Horror Noir, Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death

Paul Meehan, Horror Noir
A poorly written but (as far as I can tell) thorough overview of the confluence of two of my favorite movie genres, horror and film noir. Because what I need is more movies to watch. (A couple of months ago I checked out the wonderful Film Noir Encyclopedia from the library and ended up with a list of over two hundred movies that I needed to see. And those are just the ones rated four-star and above.) Meehan’s real interest is obviously in the early days of the genre, so I’m not sure why the chapters covering 1960 and on are even there, but the first half of the book is fascinating, if poorly copy-edited.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?
So I decided to go back to the beginning and read the Lord Peter Wimsey stories in order. I got the first three novels in an omnibus edition, which I adore, because then I can go straight from one to the next without stopping. And why stop? The characters are all wonderful, and in a delightful change from the mysteries I usually read, the murders themselves are genuinely mysterious. It is the characters that you really read a mystery series for, though. And I love them all, Lord Peter and Parker and Bunter and The Hon. Freddy, who reads like an escapee from a Wodehouse novel and is played by a young Ronald Reagan in my head.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Clouds of Witness
And now, Lord Peter’s family! They’re all as delightful as you’d expect, from his mother (who actually is delightful) to his siblings (who are not, really they’re entertaining in the way that British peers tend to be, all stuffy and ridiculous). …Which is mostly what I remember from this book, Peter’s brother being stuffy and ridiculous, and his sister being infinitely silly, and the fun of reading a book featuring a Communist club that was written in the 1920s. History is always more interesting from the inside out.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death
Yet another weird mystery, in which Lord Peter is determined to prove that a murder actually happened (and feels guilty about indirectly causing a few more along the way). The highlight of this book is Miss Climpson, a spinster hired by Lord Peter because, as he says, it’s a shame to let all that natural inquisitiveness go to waste. And it would be, Miss Climpson is amazing. And she does crack the case independently; it’s hardly her fault that none of her messages made it to Lord Peter in time.

30 Days of Books: Day Seventeen

Remember what I was saying about regular posting schedule? Ahaha. haha. ha. Yes, NaNoWriMo is still eating all my spare writing cycles. No, I will not tell you how behind I am. Not until November 30th, anyway. In the meantime, have some words about a book I don’t have time to read.

Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.) 

Burning Your Boats, the omnibus collection of Angela Carter’s short work, now unfortunately out of print. I was introduced to Angela Carter in college by my previously mentioned favorite English professor, Lisa Haines-Wright. I’ve tried Angela Carter’s novels, and wow, are they out there. I mean, I’m sure they’re Great Feminist Literature, but they are possibly just a little too Great for me. I don’t get them. Her short stories, though, are glorious.

One of my favorites is “The Fall River Axe Murders,” about Lizzie Borden and her life up to the day that made her famous. By the end of that story, she’s got you thinking, “Yeah, I’d murder my dad with an axe, too.” Another one I adore is “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” which she is supposed to have written because someone once argued that the only thing that a story needs is for something to happen, and Carter thought that putting that kind of restriction on something as versatile as a story was ridiculous. Nothing actually happens in “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” but it’ll stick with you forever all the same.

And, of course, this collection is chock-full of Carter’s famous fairy tale retellings. She makes these stories gruesome and enthralling, and what’s interesting is that many of them don’t need to be made feminist, they just needed to be tweaked a little to let Carter’s brand of feminism shine through. They’re wonderful, and I adore them.

I recently found a copy of this out-of-print volume at my local used book store. O, frabjous day! I recommend scrounging a copy from anywhere you can find one; it’s marvelous.

%d bloggers like this: