This month's book pick is ROOM by Emma Donughue.
Synopsis (from good reads): 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.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
First line: "Today I am five."
Not the most Earth shattering first line, but it's actually the second one that pulls you in:
"I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra."
The whole opening paragraph gives us the perfect introduction to Jack's unique voice, and we automatically get the sense that something is wrong. Why is a five year old sleeping in a wardrobe? Why does he talk about objects like their people? It sucks you right in and makes you want to know what's happening.
Highlights: Okay, I cheated a bit on this one. Technically ROOM is not YA, but I thought it was such a unique and compelling story that I had to share it. Plus I think it is the perfect case study for how to develop and commit to a character's voice.
The whole story is told from five-year-old Jack's perspective, and it's his enthusiasm for the world he lives in and his innocence about what's happening that makes the horrors he experiences bearable. From Jack's perspective, Room is a kind of paradise and Ma and all the objects in it are his friends. But to Ma it's a prison, and Jack has to be braver than he's ever been if he's going to help her escape.
I have to say that I was worried about reading a story told entirely from the perspective of a five-year-old, but Donughue executes it perfectly and with complete conviction. If Jack's story had been told from Ma's perspective or any other narrator it would have read like one of the other thousands of captive/escape thrillers on the marketplace. But since Jack tells us the story, it feels honest and original.
A good read for: Anyone looking to understand how to write a unique voice, without falling prey to stereotypical behavior. Also great for anyone looking for a book with a unique perspective -- this one is very original.