Book Review: Room
Updated: Jan 9, 2020
I just completed reading the 2013 book, Room, by Emma Donoghue. For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie, it is written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who—at the time the book opens—has spent his whole life in an 11 x 11 room with his mother. The mother and son are captives of a man who abducted the mother when she was 16 years, kept her locked in a shed, and forced her to have his child who is the narrator of the story. The captor has total control of the mother and son and holds them completely isolated from the outside world. Although the boy feels safe with his mother, he is experiencing multiple forms of psychological maltreatment by the captor including isolating, terrorizing, and failing to provide for his medical, mental health and mental health needs.
What makes the book so powerful is that it truly captures the world from the perspective of a child and what the story shows so clearly is that what adults think and believe and know about what is best for children is not always consistent with what children like or want.
From the adult point of view, the child was being abused and damaged because of his constrained life, but from his point of view he was happy as long as he had the love and attention of his mother. Thus, once the mother and son escaped/were rescued (I won’t give away the plot), the child was actually traumatized by the experience. Adults acted as if he was finally safe now that he was removed from his abduction situation, but for the first time in his life he actually felt unsafe. This is not to say that he should have been left where he was, only that when mental health professionals work with abducted children it is essential to recognize that the child’s experience may be very different than what we as adults and professionals think it should be.
This is consistent with what we know about abused children who are generally not grateful for being “rescued” from the abuser, especially at first. Working with children requires knowing what is best for them but also knowing what feels right to them and understanding that the two might not always be the same. Being sensitive to the perspective of the child victim is an essential part of the healing process. -- Amy J.L. Baker