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Curious about the Ariel Castro Case? Read Room by Emma Donoghue

4 Sep

This morning both NPR and the NYT announced that Ariel Castro, convicted kidnapper, murderer, and rapist, hanged himself in prison.

With Castro in the news, I found myself thinking of the haunting novel, Room, by Emma Donoghue. The book details the capture, imprisonment, and escape of a young woman–and here’s the twist– narrated from the perspective of her five year old son who is fathered by her rapist and born in imprisonment.

Room is eerily like the Castro case even though the novel was written in 2012, before the women Castro imprisoned were discovered. Unfortunately, kidnapping and imprisonment cases are all too common. So common, in fact, that Donoghue was able to piece together this fictionalized account by researching statements and files about previous kidnapping victims, most notably the Australian Fritzl case. That this tragedy happened again only makes the novel more relevant.

Room is a gruesome and realistic account of the conditions of life imprisonment, Without a reliable food source, “Ma” has to scrimp and save everything her captor, Old Nick, brings to make nutritious meals for her son. She asks for “Sunday gifts” of pens or paper to do arts and crafts with Jack, trying to keep the five year old entertained and stimulated in the tiny room, Without proper dental care, Ma’s teeth are all mush, her arms wasted from years of atrophy.

In her six years of imprisonment, Ma has attempted escape several times. However, she begins to sense that she no longer has any time to wait. Her captor has lost his job, has trouble paying the electricity bills, and has started to complain about the cost of feeding her and her son. Ma knows that there is nothing to stop Old Nick from being evicted and leaving his two dependents in the room under the shed to starve or freeze to death.

Ma’s description of Old Nick’s financial instability mirrors that of Castro. Castro lost his job as a bus driver in 2012 and his home was under foreclosure for unpaid real estate taxes at the time of his arrest. Like Ma, perhaps the decision by Castro’s victims to attempt escape was partially determined because of the financial crisis.

While Donoghue’s decision to write from the perspective of Jack seems to have dominated her understanding of the novel’s function (as more of a linguistic and psychological character study challenge), readers remain captivated by the character of Ma, who is both deeply depressed and deeply determined to care for her son.

Readers are confronted by Ma’s limitations as a mother, a woman, and a survivor. The novel forces readers to accept the brutality of public judgement on mothers, even ones who have suffered through untenable circumstances. Ma’s character is what sticks with readers after the book, challenging them to examine society’s role in her suffering and their own beliefs about “perfect motherhood.”

Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Also Wrote: Lots o’ Awesome Lesbian Books (some of which are historical, none of which are YA)

Kind of Like: A Child Called It

Verdict: Four Stars

Read this if: You’re looking for a quick read that narrates from the perspective of a kidnapping victim


Sunshine and Vampires: A Book Review

27 Aug

Sunshine By Robin McKinley

I discovered at about the same time I learned I would no longer be taking the Metro North to work, but driving instead. In fact, the two may have had a corollary relationship.

Unfortunately, listening to the news was not an option– at least, not once I sickened of NPR’s ceaseless repetition. I’m sorry guys, but I just cannot listen to the same half hour news segment on the way to and from work…for five days in a row. I mean, from how many different angles can we examine the NYC mayoral primary?

Robbed of my choose-your-story options so thoughtfully provided by the NYT iPad app, I turned to Young Adult fiction. I figured that since I spend most of my free time on my own fiction, this could be good writing research. Right? Okay, whatever. I just love the thrill of a good plot. So sue me.

Listening to an audiobook is an interesting experience, not only because I can now eat while reading without any discernible difficulty. The voice of the reader makes such a difference; for example, listening to Tamora Peirce‘s full cast audio books was more like watching a play with many different actors whereas Sunshine‘s narratorLaural Merlington, became intrinsically entwined with the protagonist, Rae.

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Four Young Adult Books with Strong Female Leads

4 Feb

I’ve wanted to add book reviewing to my resume since my senior year of college, when I sent in a request for books to an editor at the SF Chronicle who visited our elective science fiction course at UCONN. Though he never responded to me and my plea for free books and a forum (preferably paid) to vent my non-expert opinions on trashy sci-fi novels went unanswered for many years, I now have the perfect platform for sharing my book knowledge: this illustrious blog. Take that, unresponsive editor.

As the one time winner of most books read over the summer in a middle school library contest, I am clearly an expert in Young Adult literature. Moreover, since I somehow failed to identify with male characters despite living in a word where the majority of main characters are male, most of my favorite books had strong lady leads. I’d like to note that by strong, I mean strongly written and complex.

Over the years, I’ve passed along my favorite childhood books to friends, read them over and over again, brought them with me to graduate school, and used them as foil for the terrible female-scrubbed YA books out there. But the time has come to share my knowledge with the rest of the world.

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