The breakout book of 2009 was Emma Donoghue's Room, a gripping exploration of the nature of freedom and the mother-son bond that completely captured readers' imaginations. Narrated by five-year-old Jack, who has never been outside the small room that he and his mother have been confined to by a nameless kidnapper, Room is a story that is at once very specific and completely universal. After all, what mother doesn't want the best for her child, even if it means risking herself? And what child doesn't have trouble realizing that his mother is not, in fact, his whole world?
If Room ranks among your favorite books, we have some recommendations for you! Read on—and please add to the list in the comments.
First up is My Abandonment by Peter Rock (HMH), which follows an unorthodox father-daughter duo living off the grid somewhere on the West coast. When they are discovered, Caroline is forced to enter public school, and struggles with a lifestyle she finds restrictive—much as Jack does when he must leave Room. Rock thoughtfully considers questions of parenthood and love, individualism vs. civilization and more in a thoughtful and suspenseful tale that deserves a wider readership.
If the drama of a mother fighting for her child is what you crave, try Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (Harper). When the book opens, the worst has already happened for Kate Barton: Her daughter Amelia has apparently jumped to her death from the roof of her prep school. The grief-stricken Kate, a single mom, can't believe her daughter would do such a thing, and begins her own investigation, poring through Amelia's texts and Facebook posts to determine just what happened to her little girl.
As news stories continue to prove, stories like the one in Room exist outside of writers' imaginations. And they continue to fascinate. Koethi Zan's debut, The Never List (Pamela Dorman), is another thriller that centers on a woman held by a man against her will—and this time, it's four women, chained in the basement of an isolated house by a man they know only as The Professor. The novel opens 10 years after Sarah and the others have made their escape—but their tormenter is still out there, and he might have more plans for them.
OK, so the privileged Seattle lifestyle enjoyed by the mother-daughter duo in Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Little, Brown), is a far cry from the 12x12 prison that Ma and Jack share in Room. But if Donoghue's critical look at the media and the society that Ma and Jack re-enter appealed to you, you'll probably appreciate Semple's satire of America's modern upper-middle class. Better yet, you won't have any trouble sleeping after you turn the last page of this one.
An Atlanta family tries to put themselves back together after their abducted son is restored to them in Sheri Joseph's unsettling Where You Can Find Me (Thomas Dunne). Like Room, this is a novel that focuses on the ordinary in the extraordinary—though their situation is extreme, the Vincents had trouble in their marriage before Caleb's disappearance, and most of their struggles are those that any family would share. A heartfelt treatment of a difficult subject, Joseph's second novel is a closely observed tale of a fractured family.
Those who loved the complicated, perfectly drawn mother-son relationship in Room shouldn't miss The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Free Press) by Teddy Wayne. Though 11-year-old Jonny and his "momager" Jane live their lives in luxury hotel rooms or stately mansions, the trappings of fame prove to be as much of a cage for Jonny as Room is for Jack. And, though the tone of this novel is completely different, Wayne also uses his child narrator's unusual circumstances to highlight the universal struggle of coming of age in a complicated and hostile world.
OK, your turn. What books do you suggest for fans of Room?
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