This weekend I was perusing the book section of the Google Play store—I was looking for something exciting that was not related to blogging and copywriting materials. Although for personal enjoyment, I read the most diverse book genres, for my blog reviews, I’m focusing on children’s books and educational materials, which help parents, caretakers, and business-minded individuals make smart decisions in their everyday life.
As expected, I found a myriad of books, including the stories that served as the basis for the Oscar nominations. I had a tough time making up my mind. But after spotting the title of a movie I saw and which touched me so deeply, not because of the Oscar buzz, but the underlining messages beneath the story, I chose ROOM by Emma Donoghue.
A word of caution for this review, though, is that I’m giving away a few spoilers. So, if you didn’t read the book or watch the movie, you might want to stop right here.
ROOM is the story of a woman, Ma (her name is not made known in the book, but in the movie, she is called Joy), and her son, Jack, who lived captive in a shed behind the perpetrator’s house. That minuscule eleven-by-eleven place was made of a small bed (which mother and son shared), a sink, a table, closet, and an old TV. A feature of this room was a small skylight which allowed for the sun to come in and for mother and son to “contemplate the sky.”
Ma was kidnapped when she was a teenager while trying to help a man (she called Old Nick) find his dog and since then, she was kept in captivity for seven years. After two years of being held hostage, the teen gave birth to Jack; a pregnancy that happened because she was being sexually abused by the man who kidnapped her.
Jack was Ma’s everything and the reason for her to keep moving over the years while kept isolated from the world. Jack was a smart five-year-old boy whose mother shielded him completely from the outside world. Jack didn’t know that the person who kidnapped and raped his mom was his biological father. The only human being he had contact with was her, Ma. Even though they were allowed an old TV, which Jack watched regularly, Ma made Jack believe that what they saw were characters of their imagination. For her, this was a way to protect her offspring.
The movie brings awareness to the saga of women who are raped and kept captive while bringing hope to those brave survivors. The book brings up the subject, but the focus of the story takes another direction: Jack and how he sees the world.
The book is narrated through the eyes of Jack, and in the story, he created his own world with the resources he had—his cars, a few pieces of furniture, and even creatures such as roaches and rats. Because he was confined in the “Inside” world with Ma and a few objects, he personified everything. For instance, he would “sleep in Bed with Ma.” He would “go inside Wardrobe.”
Aiming at protecting her son, despite the challenges, Ma managed to create an environment that allowed Jack to grow. That was not optimal, but Ma made what she could out of the few resources they had. Jack had access to books, which the perpetrator provided, and that was also what helped him with literacy and math skills. Despite that, once mother and son were out living a normal life, doctors and psychologists had concerns about Jack’s social, sensory, and spatial‑perception abilities.
As predicted, the child missed the social aspect. He had his mom, but he didn’t have a stable family structure to support him. He did not have direct contact with the outside world, and, therefore no interaction with peers and environment.
Because Jack was secluded in a small space, he had issues gauging distance and kept stumbling on things. He was not used to anyone touching him except Ma, and even to be exposed to the sunlight, he had to take some precautions.
Jack’s experiences affected me in unimaginable ways, especially as I am in the position of former teacher. But as a reviewer, I have to point out a few drawbacks of both the book and the movie.
I’ll start with Jack’s process of adjustment to the society, which in the book is better explored than on the big screen. In the movie, although Jack faced a shocking reality when he and Ma left captivity, his adaptation seemed like a breeze. In the book, as anticipated, that process took time and required an extensive network of support, such as staying in a special facility for observation for days.
The way Ma managed to shield Jack from Old Nick is fascinating, to say the least. However, considering the small space both mother and son shared, it is unrealistic. Also, both the book and movie bring little about the contemptuous relationship between Ma and Old Nick. It seems, by Ma’s actions, that she just wanted to survive and protect Jack.
In this matter, I take my hat off to her, who although being kidnapped as a teen, and knowing little or nothing about adulthood or motherhood, took her son— a product of rape— and was able to raise him despite the unfortunate circumstances.
The story is narrated in the voice of Jack, who uses a series of grammatically incorrect sentences and verbs (what is expected for his age), but would also come up with a big vocabulary in some instances. That wouldn’t be such a big deal so long as the child had grown in a normal environment, but he only had access to children’s books.
I have to admit that, unusually, I liked the movie better than the book. It is true; the movie was adapted to fit the demands of Hollywood. But in some ways, it needed to be to bring action to the dialogue and plot—remember that a five-year-old child narrates the book. Also, from the movie perspective, it seems that the directors wanted to bring awareness to the sexual assault victims’ issue.
Overall, the beauty of this piece lies in how a child’s perspective of the world can take us to a dimension that we can never imagine. If people can see the world through the eyes of Jack, they would be amazed how much we could create and what better humans we could be.
From that, I kept imagining if only Jack had spent his first five years in the right environment, where he would be in his development? That gives us a friendly reminder that the way children learn—through play, engaging with people, peers, materials, and their environment—creates their experiences. But that is a subject for another post.
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Did you watch or read ROOM? What are your thoughts? Let’s start a conversation below.
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