Today in My History

2000:  If You Want to Make God Laugh
Playin the Waiting Game
Bev Sykes, Intrepid Reporter
Cooking for One
Turn Here
Yon Sopa has a Lean and Hungry Look
2008:   Finally! --  Cousins Day!!
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2010:   My Eyes are Watering
2011:   Crash Course
2012:  If It's Tuesday
2013:  A Sad Tale of Technical Woe

2014:  Today at Logos

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Books Read in 2015
 Updated: 7/18

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18 July, 2015

If you ever intend to read this book, skip this entry because it will contain spoilers.

I have seen things about this book since its publication in 2010. when it was Amazon's Best of the Month for September of that year. 

I knew vaguely what it was about but none of the particulars about why this woman and her son were living all alone in a room.  I didn't know if it was regular fiction of science fiction.

I finally got it as an audio book and it has been sitting in my iPod for a couple of years now and the other day I decided to start listening to it. The more I got into it, the more gripping it became.  I got no sleep last night because I was up until 4 a.m. trying to get to the end.

As I said in my book review, "If I had not read this as an audio book, I'm not sure I would have finished it, but voice of Michal Friedman (who, sadly, died in 2011 during a cesarean to deliver her twins) was so perfect as 5 year old Jack that I had to stick with it to see how it turns out."

The story starts on Jack's 5th birthday and how amazed he is that when he went to bed he was 4 and when he woke up he was 5.  Through Jack's commentary on his life with Ma you come to realize that the two of them have been locked -- forever, for Jack -- in an 11' x 11' windowless room and the only other person who ever enters is "Old Nick," who comes at night after Jack has gone to sleep to bring them supplies and Sunday treats.

Jack doesn't know it but Nick kidnapped Ma when she was a 19 year old student and has held her captive in a back yard bunker all these years.  Jack is her second child, the first having died at birth (we learn this late in the book, not from Jack). Ma does all she can to make Jack's life as normal as it can be, and makes certain that he is always asleep inside the wardrobe before Nick comes in to rape her at night. (And we never hear this from Ma's voice, but only Jack's feeling, hearing the squeak of the bed before Old Nick finally leaves)

I thought often about how kids accept their lives as they are because they don't know any different.  I was 10 years old, for example, before I was diagnosed with amblyopia (lazy eye blindness).  I just assumed that everyone had one good eye and one bad eye, so it never occurred to me to tell my mother that I couldn't really see very well out of my right eye. I wonder about my Compassion kids living in abject poverty ... do they just assume this is the normal way people live because everyone around them lives the same way?

Eventually Ma can't stand it any more and concocts a plot to escape.  It will require Jack to be brave because the plan won't work without his cooperation.  She is to make Nick think that Jack died and that he has to take him somewhere and bury him (not in the back yard, where he buried the first baby).  Jack is wrapped tightly in a rug and they practice over and over how he is to be still while Nick throws him in the back of a truck and how he is to escape when the truck comes to a stop and what he needs to do then.

This is where the book starts to lose its credibility.  Jack, who has memorized every book he owns, including Alice in Wonderland, can't seem to remember the 9 steps he is supposed to take to get away from Nick.  But it does work, even though he can't speak to the first person he sees because he has never spoken to anyone but Ma before.

The arrest of Nick, discovery of the bunker, and release of Ma happen very quickly and the second part of the book concerns their integration back into society. 

Jack has never seen grass or trees or birds or insects, he has never seen another child, he doesn't know the simplest things such as how to walk down stairs.  He thinks Dora the Explorer (his "best friend" from TV) is as real as the children he sees around him. Everything is new to him, and the reaction of those around him, from the therapists to his relatives is totally unbelievable. 

The therapists treat him as if he understands all the complicated lingo they toss at him, and his grandmother is frustrated with him because he won't "go out and play" or "make friends with another child."  She can't seem to understand these are foreign concepts to him.  His uncle is angry with him for "stealing" his favorite book from a book store.  Jack saw his favorite book on display, figured it had come from "room" and packed it in his backpack to take home--not realizing that there was more than one copy of that book and it needed to be paid for.  Uncle Paul gets furious with him.

Grandma seems more upset at what her friends are going to think about Ma still nursing 5 year old Jack than about how to comfort her daughter after 7 years of incarceration.  Her father won't even look at the boy because of the way he was conceived.

There is a video interview in here somewhere which makes Fox news look good.  Even FOX wouldn't ask the terribly stupid and insensitive questions this interviewer did!

As for Ma's actions, I won't totally reveal what happens, but the Ma of Part 1, who lives to protect Jack would never have done what she does in Part 2.

I might have stopped reading this when it began to get into the realm of unbelievability, but I'm glad that the narrator was so good because it kept me going (until 4 a.m. this morning).  I was wondering how they could end this plot which seemed to be going on without purpose for so long.  But author Donoghue found the perfect way to end it, so I'm glad I stuck with it.



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