The story of a boy who’s never been outside

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Jack, a 5-year-old boy securely attached to his mother, narrates his story in Emma Donoghue’s riveting novel Room: Such a story, such a mother! Jack’s room—the only universe the boy has ever known—is actually a locked garden shed, built by the psychopath who abducted Jack’s Ma seven years ago when she was 19. “Outside” is only a concept. Yet inside, Jack’s Ma has created a nurturing routine. Every day after lunch and nap, for instance, the two scream. Then they shush and listen. “I asked Ma once what we’re listening for and she said just in case you never know.”

Though the story’s chilling circumstances reflect the horrors endured by tabloid-famous abductees, Donoghue avoids all sensationalism. Instead, she gracefully distills what it means to be a mother—and what it’s like for a child whose entire world measures just 11 x 11. A-