ROOM by Emma Donoghue – SPOILER PAGE

Ok – you know the drill…. the spoiler pages are used to openly and freely discuss a book without fear of giving away anything to an unsuspecting person who has not read the book.  If you have not read this book – STOP NOW.  My review is safe to read but this page will be full of details in the book that are very spoilerish.

That said, let’s begin.  The only thing that really bothered me through out the entire read was the breast-feeding.  I hate to say that and I feel just prudish doing so … but it really disturbed me.  And maybe that is what author Emma Donoghue was going for…. the squirm factor.  I think the fact that Jack was 5 and asking for “some” or walking up to his mom and lifting her shirt up to breast feed just still even as I type bugs me.  And again – I get it.  I am sure the milk that Jack needed was probably not readily available in their circumstances and they never knew if they could count on Old Nick or not, so I understand why it is in the book… I guess I am just wondering if anyone else squirmed through this too?  :D

I really thought the book was well put together and well thought out.  The escape, while scary, was believable.  I liked how the author put in things that I would not have thought of, like the sensitivity to sun after not having been in it and even how careful they had to be of germs once out in the world.

Please share your thoughts here about anything in this book.  I would love to discuss it more deeply with you and I will respond to your comments.

UPDATE:  I just finished my author chat with Emma Donoghue and I asked her about the breastfeeding and what was behind this part of the book.  Here is her response:

Emma:  Finally, your breastfeeding question.  It seems to me that Jack mentions it pretty rarely, actually: he gives far more analysis of what they have for lunch and dinner.  But it’s such a touchy subject (especially, I’m finding, in the US) that it stands out.  I kept it in because it seemed entirely natural that Ma would keep up that most comforting part of the mother-baby bond as long as they are living very much like a mother-and-baby (never apart, never socializing with other people) in ROOM.

  1. I guess I was a little disturbed by that part too, but like you said there were few other options for him to receive milk. It was interesting to see how Ma was judged Outside by still allowing Jack to breastfeed without seeming to fully grasp the conditions under which they were living.

    Nice review.

    • Thanks Suzanne. When I first picked up on what he was doing I was horrified. Then I really had to think about it and at least as long as she could keep producing breast milk she never had to worry about Jack not having it.

      I think it really hit home for me when the grandmother said. “Surely you are not still breastfeeding him?” and Ma just let out a sigh. i could feel the misunderstanding there from Grandmother to Ma.

  2. Of course we were disturbed by it – it’s not normal.. but that was the point that was getting across. This world WASN’T normal.

    I think that Ma continued to breastfeed Jack because, honestly… why wean him? It was a bond between them, there was no where for him to go, no place for Ma to send him outside to play. That room was an unnatural place for two human beings to live and, in a way, they were stuck in the limbo of a mother/newborn relationship.

    It was heavily disturbing every time Jack asked for some, but again.. 19 year old girl with very little experience (think of how much you thought you knew at 19), dealing with the stress of being raped quite often, the death of her first baby and who the trauma of being confined and lacking medical and dental treatment (not to mention the psychiatric help others would have sought) — I think the book would have been lacking WITHOUT a vivid reminder of just how unusual this situation is and how abnormal their behaviors were.

    • Great points Lydia because the breastfeeding is brought up often throughout the book. I am doing an author chat with Emma Donoghue and I did not ask her about this but maybe I should see what her thoughts were on this as she wrote it.

      I like how you say that in the book we are focusing on how abnormal their situation is and perhaps Emma is trying to show that by the fact that Jack is breastfeeding, taking baths with his mom and of course with is being one room – even using the toilet is not private.

      GAH! I can hardly imagine…

      • Hah! I so called it:

        “I think that Ma continued to breastfeed Jack because, honestly… why wean him? It was a bond between them, there was no where for him to go, no place for Ma to send him outside to play. That room was an unnatural place for two human beings to live and, in a way, they were stuck in the limbo of a mother/newborn relationship.”

  3. when jack was evaluated after the escape he was found to be malnourished so imagine what he would have been like without the breast milk!!
    i got the impression that after the rescue mom realized it needed to be stopped also
    i would like the author to write this story from just the mom’s perspective…would be intersting to compare!!!
    p.s. aren’t you glad you found your copy????

    • Diana what a thought – writing the book again from the Mother’s perspective. I would read that! I think Ma knew things had to change and didnt even know how to begin once she was back in the world. Her depression and the overdose leading to Jack staying at the Grandparents for a while was a great opportunity to wean him off these habits.

      I am still thinking about the book and even finding it more impressive as I evaluate how it all came together.

  4. Once my brain connected the dots, I was bothered by this as well, but in some ways I understand why she continued. Not only for the nourishment but also for the intimate connection that we as humans need. The intimate touching and connection is one of our basic needs. I can not imagine living in such a stifling and secluded environment, with essentially no other human interaction, with the exception of my captor, which was abusive in so many ways.

    I also felt it served as a comfort mechanism for both of them. She was providing for him, doing something physical, when as a mother, you want to be able to provide in so many ways for your children, ways in which she knew she was unable.

    This book really struck a cord with me. I have a son who is autistic, very high functioning, but has sensory processing issues that actually causes seizures when he is overstimulated. As a mother, I know the things that will send his system into overdrive, but after reading this book from Jack’s perspective and how things were for him once he was out of the room, I felt like I could not only relate but sympathize with my own child just that much better. We have all heard of life imitating art, I just wonder if there is someone in Emma Donoghue’s life or circle of friends that helped to really shed a light on how someone feels when they are sensory overstimulated. My child is only 3 right now but I wish that he was older so that we could have this discussion. I know that most things that we all as humans take for granted are too much for his neurological system and after reading this book I am further humbled and stand in awe of his day to day life.

    I am glad that you found your copy and were able to finish! It is refreshing to finally be able to “chat” with someone who has read this book. This would be a great book club book, there is just so many paths that the discussion could go in!

  5. thanks for the update…..i guess i just didn’t think that much about the breastfeedingissue when i was reading it….one part that i kept going back to was the attempted suicide……she did such a great job of raising him yet couldn’t see a light when she was free……
    the dugard case in calif…..evidently the monster who kept her is upset that neither she/the kids have seen him….wonder if in the book ma’s kidnapper still has the desire to see her?…

    • Great thoughts Diana! I had a discussion with a friend today about the whole breastfeeding thing… I told her I don’t know why it bothered me so much but every time it was mentioned I got the heevy jeevies…. LOL…. even though I totally understand why she did it.

      My friend felt just the opposite and it did not bother her at all.

      Hmmm…. she’s not my friend anymore….

      Just kidding! :razz:

  6. what else about your interview that was interesting was that the breastfeeding thing didn’t raise any eyebrows except here in the states …..that must be strange to go on a tour to promote your book and be questioned about something that catches you off guard because in your home country no one raised an eyebrow!
    would love to see this made into a movie…..

  7. I have just finished reading this book and for me it was an amazing 48 hours. I struggled to put the book down and midway through I found myself thinking about Jack and Ma on and off throughout the day while I was at work, wondering how it would all end. For the record I think the ending was perfect and I actually can’t think of any other way she could have ended it.

    I’d like to add my opinion to the breastfeeding discussion. I am about to finish feeding my daughter. She turned one last week. I’m actually really sad about it – more so now for having read Room. Fortunately I’ll never know for sure but I believe I would have done the same thing as Ma in her situation. Breast milk is the one thing she can give Jack that has nothing to do with Old Nick. She also knows that Jack is living a very strange life, missing out on many things that we now consider ‘normal’, so by feeding him she is able to give him her own version of a Sunday treat every day. And of course if you are stuck there together you would want your bond to be as close as possible. I now feel as though it would have been weird if she hadn’t still been breastfeeding him, particularly as it helped Jack get to sleep before Old Nick came.

    My opinion on this issue has totally turned around, and now I find myself questioning why we consider so many aspects of our lives in this world to be ‘normal’.

    • Great comments and thoughts here Tammy. The whole breast feeding discussion has been interesting, and I had found out after reading the book that the US is the only country that stops breast feeding their children so early.

  8. OK, I’ve been known to over-analyze things – I know this about myself :) But throughout the book, I was afraid toward the end we were going to find out that Old Nick had sexually abused Jack. I was afraid that it’d come out during play therapy & the reason it wasn’t mentioined earlier be because of a repressed memory or something. I thought this because of his adult ways of describing private parts, his own recognition of his parts, and then the lack of boundaries between himself and Bronwyn. Now obviously, this was probably due to the extremely abnormal circumstances … his Ma was getting raped regularly while he was in the same room. Also, I can imagine Ma not wanting to sugarcoat the details of male/female private parts with her having to survive such terrible abuse.

    Either way, I was so so afraid this was going to come out toward the end & further break my heart for Jack. I am glad it did not happen that way. His Ma was obviously did her best to protect him from the atrocities of their living conditions. Did anyone else think about this, or was I just bracing myself for more bad news?

  9. I am an Australian mum who has just been reading this book and I *love* the portrayal of breastfeeding in the book. Obviously it is not the most major part of the book but I love reading a story where long-term breastfeeding is portrayed in this way. I am still breastfeeding my 2 year old and I found it really interesting hearing about breastfeeding from a child’s perspective. I can’t say for sure how my child feels about it but I imagine it is similar to Jack, in milk being part of comfort, reassurance and love. I love the way “Ma” sticks it to all the police people/journalist etc who look down on her for breastfeeding and tells them to get over it- as she says, it is not the most important part of their story. I have been wondering whether the author Emma Donoghue has any personal experiences with longer-term breastfeeding or if it is a particularly important issue to her and she chose to include it for this reason? Either way I think it is a beautiful story. Reading about the bond between Ma and Jack makes me love my son all over again. I think it is a great story how Ma and Jack can triumph over the violence and abuse they recieved and it made me think of mothers parenting while living with domestic violence as well.

    • Thanks for your comments Evelyn. When I talked with the author I know she mentioned how surprised she was with how the US reacted to the breastfeeding. I had no idea it was more cultural for us here to stop early and that some areas of the world go longer.

      You are right, while it has risen some eyebrows – it is not the most important part of the story. :)

    • Finally someone I agree with on the breastfeeding issue. I too have a 2 year old son who I’m still breastfeeding, but I live in the US where so many think it’s just not “natural.” So I just don’t tell anyone, only my husband and daugher know. As a stay at home mom of toddlers, I cannot express how much I loved this book, and the breastfeeding is just one of the reasons. I loved seeing the world through Jack’s eyes – how precious everything is, how much we have, and how much of it gets lost in the infiniteness of it all.

  10. I am still shocked that people are shocked by breastfeeding, even when the child is older. What a beautiful portrayal of the bond between Ma and Jack. I loved the book, and was so saddened by the way Ma was questioned by the tv personality. I think this story really affected me because I have a 4-year old boy, too.

  11. HI, Sheila –

    I know you wrote this review ages ago, but I just finished my own review of Room, so I popped over here to read yours (in part because Room had no named location that for Where Are You Reading and I just wanted to see if you “counted” it for anywhere).

    I guess I would feel uncomfortable with a normal 5-year old who was still breastfeeding, in our modern world, but I felt it was perfectly normal and even “right” for Jack. Why would he stop? It provided the best nutrition Ma could find for him under the circumstances but also provided comfort to both of them in this horrifying situation (of course, it wasn’t horrifying to Jack since he didn’t know any better). I thought it was natural he might still be breastfeeding even though I was a bit surprised when I first realized what “some” meant.

    This book was just so amazing and affected me so deeply. I just finished writing the review so I could pass it on to my mom (we’re at her house this weekend). Just reviewing it made me want to read it again!

    Since this is the spoiler section, the other thing I really wanted to talk about was their adjustment to the real world – so fascinating, wasn’t it? Every aspect of it. Donoghue just thought it out so thoroughly. So many things we take for granted as normal that they had to get adjusted to. Really makes you think about the real-life cases that have been similar to this.

    Sue

    • Hi Sue – I cant recall if ROOM had a place that it took place – I will have to look around a bit for that one. I read it last year and was not consistent with my book locations like I am now.

      I thought the book was brilliant and loved how everything fit together….. I am glad you enjoyed it too!

  12. I liked your review- straight and to the point. I have about 20 pages left in the book. I’m not a mom but being raised outside of the US I know mothers who have continued breastfeeding until their children were about 2 or 3. I don’t know what the harm is (except the child becoming dependent) in breast feeding for a while but I guess it’s just not socially acceptable. Quite frankly, I see that as the mothers personal choice and right and I don’t really see what the big stink is. I know that after my mom stopped breastfeeding I still couldn’t get to sleep without drinking a cup of warm milk.
    Besides that point, I don’t think the book is as AMAZING as everyone is saying, but I do give the author a big kudos! for being able to, like you pointed out, talk about small details that we don’t realize affect people who have gone through these horrible ordeals.
    I think the story is warm and touching in many ways, the way that Jack has to learn that people say things sometimes that are not literal and that sometimes the world is TOO much. It breaks the readers hearts to hear him yearn for things in room and want to go back to where he knew the name for all things– but in that sense I find the book very believable.

  13. Of all the shocking things in this novel, the breastfeeding should be the least of it. In fact, I think one or the author’s best made points is to turn on it’s head mainstream America’s conception of what is “normal”. We have gotten so far away from living by our instincts, the way Jack & Ma had to do. This blogger sums up how I felt about the breastfeeding:

    http://www.abettermom.com/?p=98

    I really hope that if they make a movie out of the novel Donoghue does not compromise this aspect of her story just to make it more palatable to American audience. Our society’s current attitude towards breastfeeding is far less “normal” than Jack’s.

    Ps- Jack’s weaning was perhaps the most poignant part of the novel, & without the breastfeeding we wouldn’t have gotten that beautiful scene that showed how both characters were moving on with life “outside.”

  14. I just read this book and loved it, and was pleased by the author’s inclusion of the breastfeeding, and especially by how well she captured the boy’s thoughts about it. It seems pretty reasonable to me that they would have continued nursing, there were no external pressures to wean. And in fact the weaning occurs due to the unnatural separation with the mother’s breakdown. Around the world weaning occurs because of external societal pressures – death of mother, illness, forced separation, societal or family or peer disapproval, subsequent pregnancy. In the absence of these factors weaning occurs when mother and child are both ready, as is advised by health care experts led by WHO.

    I knew this aspect would be received as shocking by some readers, especially US readers. The anthropologically correct age for weaning in is around Jack’s age. (http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html)

    I think the author handles it well right in the story when she has the TV talks how host react with surprise and the woman laughs and says she can’t believe of all the shocking things that happened, that people want to talk about the breastfeeding.

  15. Yes, what is “normal?” Human teeth, when compared to those of other primates, suggest that we evolved to nurse for 4-7 years! I was once at a mountain party when a 4 or 5 y/o pulled on her mom’s halter top; the mother bent down and nursed her while continuing to talk. Everyone was scandalized. Most were disturbed because it didn’t seem nutritionally necessary, and “seemed sexual, somehow.” What about intimacy? Or even — heaven forsake us all — just pleasure, though not sexual? Ma was smart to keep this as part of Jack’s tiny little world, IMHO

  16. Is this book only about Breastfeeding?

  17. It wasn’t so much the breastfeeding that bothered me as the way Jack described it–“I wanted some”. It made him sound like a crackhead needing a fix instead of a child needing comfort. I also didn’t think Jack mentioned it “rarely” as the author states. It seems like it mentioned it a lot.

    • I think it had such shock value Michele… I know it did for me… when he first asked for some… I think I had a full body shiver run through me. :D

      It was so not what I expected and in that sense, really made the book all the better.

  18. What about the possibility that it was a defense mechanism for mom? You can’t get pregnant (again) while breastfeeding.

    I don’t know that a 20 something, first time mom would know that. But it helps me process it better.

  19. I’m really surprised the response from the author was “It seems to me that Jack mentions it pretty rarely, actually: he gives far more analysis of what they have for lunch and dinner.” I noticed the asking for “some” stood out to me A LOT, i felt like he was constantly mentioning it like an addiction, and it made me kind of uncomfortable/squirmy.

  20. Interesting analysis of the breast feeding in room. For some reason I just assumed jack was addicted to pain killers via his mother’s breast milk since it seemed clear she was addicted to pain killers. Since he had a tendency to throw tantrums I assumed she was unable to wean him since he was addicted and she couldn’t handle watching her son go through withdrawal. I thought this would be resolved in the book, but apparently not and based on the above author quote and these comments, I guess this wrinkle in interpreting room was just me. Oh well, thought it was an interesting subplot but alas.

    • Its been so long since I read this now but I do not recall Ma having pain killers while in ROOM. Perhaps I dont remember…. :D

      • I am currently reading this now (not too far into it, about a 1/3), but mom takes the pain killers in Room for her bad teeth. She takes them quite often and it’s mentioned quite a bit in the book.

        I thought about this too, that he may have an addiction to the pain killers in ma’s milk. The breastfeeding part still gives me the heebie-jeebies. I know it is not seen as a sexual thing, and in Europe they are a lot less concerned about nudity in public, but I couldn’t get over how disturbing it was. I also understand all the possible reasons for why she did it, but I still couldn’t get over it. I feel like once the kid is able to ask for “some” (shudder) it gets into creepy territory. Especially at 5, that is crossing a boundary.

  21. Certainly understandable! Jack does mention Ma taking the “killers” for her teeth quite often as if it is daily or multiple times per day, and “killers” became the “Sunday treat” when they were out, seemingly superseding anything else on their list. I thought that Ma’s possible addiction to the painkillers would be muted and not necessarily perceived by Jack, and that maybe Ma wouldn’t even realize that taking painkillers regularly whil breast feeding is not considered a healthy practice for the baby. Again, seems like this was not the author’s intent based on her response to the question above, so I may have over-nuanced myself while reading this book.

  22. the breastfeeding is crazy he 5 and has teeth suckin his mama tittie

  23. My 14 yr old grandson was assigned The Room to read as a summer assignment. Any comment? I am quite angry and have no thought as to how this complex book will benefit Andrew at his age. I would love your input.

  24. What is Ma’s name.!?!?!!

  25. I too squirmed at Jack’s wanting ‘some’! That means only one thing in my mind and totally caught me off guard!

  26. I am surprised that with the situation, breast feeding is what disturbed so many people.

  27. I was completely put off by the breastfeeding and considered not reading the book further. You state the author says it is not mentioned that much. I disagree. It is mentioned constantly – to the point that I found this page by Googling “Emma Donogohue’s breastfeeding obsession.” Even after I was well into the book, I cringed every time if came up – especially when he talked about right or left and “creamy.” Once or twice I fought down a gag. And I am not anti-breast-feeing, respect the rights of women to do so in a restaurant, etc. It just wasn’t necessary and put a lot of people off.

    • Its funny you posted this today. Just this afternoon I had a friend over to look at my books to borrow a couple, she asked about ROOM and I was sharing with her how the whole breastfeeding creeped me out…. my thoughts were when you are old enough to walk and ask for it you are too old. :razz: On the other hand when you read the book you understand that they never knew when food would be coming or if it would be coming. As long as she kept breast feeding she had a source of food for Jack.

  28. I haven’t finished the book yet but was interested to see what other people thought so stumbled upon this through a quick Google search. I’m surprised at the reaction I’ve seen across the board (not just here) being quite so negative. I’m currently breastfeeding my 13 month old & my 3 year 7 month old so maybe it bothers me less with me breastfeeding at the moment. I don’t see myself nursing a 5 year old, personally for me I don’t think I could but I respect anyone elses right to, if they’re happy & it’s working for them then so be it. I just don’t understand why there’s such a huge reaction. I’m not put off by it whatsoever. I think it’s how societies attitudes towards breastfeeding in general at the moment which is causing so much controversy.

  29. I’m currently teaching ROOM in a freshman seminar, and I happened to stumble across this post. Many of my students have been grossed out by the breastfeeding like many of you. One thing that we all bring with us when we pick up a book is our cultural bias. In the current US culture, it does seem outside the norm for someone to breastfeed a 5-year-old, although the average age around the world is around 4. However, if you put yourself in that room, under those circumstances, it makes perfect sense. There is no outside pressure to stop, she is giving her son supplementary nutrition, and she is providing him with needed love and comfort. As she said to her mother at one point, “There was no reason to stop.” She was doing the best she could, given the situation in which she was forced to live. Great discussion, though!

    • Well put Liz. that is pretty much what my book club came up with too. When you don’t know if your next meal will come and you have the ability to produce food for your son, why wouldn’t you? Thank you for your thoughts and what a fun discussion for your class!

  30. as a health care professional i instantly thought of the nutrition ma was providing jack when their diet wasnt very extravegant in room. i also thought of the pain meds in the breastmilk and how potentially addicted jack was and if she were to stop cold turkey how he would possibly withdrawl with no medical help in room. great book, i couldnt put it down. would LOVE to see a movie made.

  1. Pingback: ROOM by Emma Donoghue « One Persons Journey through a world of Books

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