Across the Page: Must Reads

This month’s Across the Page features three books that are so good I am jealous of those of you who have not yet read them and get to experience the stories for the first time: Room by Emma Donoghue (it will keep you up at night); The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard (a multilayered story about two families who are mysteriously connected); and White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway (prose that reads like poetry).

Room by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)

If, like me, you’re an Emma Donoghue fan and have read her other work, including The Sealed Letter, Landing and Life Mask, you will know that she is capable of a wide range of styles, worlds and voice. Still, I was blown away by the absolute brilliance of her latest novel.

Room is the story of a 5-year-old boy named Jack who was born and raised in an 11×11 room with only his mother. At first, the circumstances and necessity of Jack’s captivity are unclear. His mother has created an alternative sense of reality for Jack that includes a range of beliefs: the world seen through the TV screen is imaginary; the sun is the face of God; the room they inhabit is the actual "world."

The only interference in Jack’s life comes during the weekly visit by a man named Old Nick who enters the room and brings them supplies. During this time, Jack hides in the wardrobe and listens to Old Nick and his mother "on the bed."

Jack and his mother have a routine that includes classes, exercise, prayer and play. Donoghue has created a new language for Jack that reflects his perspective — "If I ran away, I’d become a chair and Ma wouldn’t know which one. Or I’d make myself invisible and stick to Skylight and she’d look right through me. Or a tiny speck of dust and go up to her nose and she’d sneeze me right out."

But as Jack gets older and starts to question their reality, and Old Nick’s behavior begins to change, Jack’s mother is encouraged to finally explain their situation. It also revives her desire to escape it. It’s a desire that Jack cannot fully understand and one that will challenge everything he knows about life in the Room.

There is so much at stake in this beautiful, terrifying and original novel about survival and love. Donoghue has created an unforgettable mind and voice in the character of Jack. A must read.

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