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Ermahgerd. Berks.

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James S.A. Corey
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The Shining Girls

Room: A Novel

Room: A Novel - I was all ready to hate this book. Doesn't it sound obnoxious? An adult novel about harrowing things, but narrated by a 5-year-old? Mere gimmickry, right, a showy writing experiment, likely to win praise from the easily impressed.But I don't think I am that easily impressed, and damn, this book is kind of a stunner. Because yes, if not handled exactly right, a book narrated by a child probably would be obnoxious. I haven't read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close yet, and I might or might not like it, but I already know that it is written in the voice of a precocious 9-year-old, and precocious kids usually are pretty annoying. But Jack, the narrator of Room, is not really precocious, and Emma Donoghue has managed to capture a realistic child's voice without turning out a book that's overly simplistic or too calculated. And I really don't know how she did it. As you begin reading this story of a boy who has spent his entire life locked in one small room, the son of the unfortunate Ma (who is never named, because she's Ma), who was kidnapped and has been kept in the room for the last seven years, it does seem too cute: all the objects in Room are proper nouns with genders, like Floor and Bed and Duvet and Wardrobe, which kind of makes sense because to Jack, they are the only onlys of those things in the world, because the whole world is Room (he has a TV, which he thinks shows make-believe things that live on planets inside the TV). But I kept reading, and there's really remarkable depth to the story even though such a limited narrative scope. What really grabbed me is the way the book perfectly captures the malleability of a kid's mind, the way they take what they know and use it as a filter to interpret the stuff they encounter that they don't understand. I once read something by Stephen King that posited that all children are more or less clinically insane until about age seven, when those parts of their brain firm up and they stop coming up with ideas like, "oh it got dark because a giant monster ate the sun." And of course, Emma Donoghue knows that we are not 5-year-olds, and she somehow manages to weave in all these staggeringly sad truths about the world, and growing up, and our relationships with our parents, and how fleeting time and relationships can be, all into the voice of this little boy who doesn't even realize what he's saying, but it doesn't feel crammed in, or like a cheat (the Magical Negro 5-Year-Old).I didn't say anything about the plot because I think it really helps to not know much beyond the premise going in (and it's one of those books I would really like to have read knowing absolutely nothing at all, but such is life). And yes, it's more of a heart book than a head book, but I don't think it is bad that sometimes books try to engage us in different ways. And certainly there's room, with this premise, for a different kind of book, almost a social satire, but that's not what we have here, and it's still quite an experience.