Jack, a five year old boy, lives in a single room with Ma. We meet Jack and Ma on the morning of his fifth birthday. Slowly we learn about the extent of their tiny world and how they came to be there. The answers are heartbreaking and leaves the reader with an utter sense of helplessness.
But there is hope. Ma and Jack come up with a plan for their escape, which mercifully works, and the remainder of the novel focuses on Ma's return to, and Jack's introduction to, the real world.
It's hard to imagine how a huge part of a novel that takes part in one room can be so absorbing, but that's down to how brilliantly Jack's character is constructed and how good a mother Ma is. Since they're just in this Room, she's going to make it as exciting as she can. Their games are endlessly imaginative, Jack is learning a lot despite limited resources, and she keeps him out of sight from Old Nick, their captor.
With Jack's introduction into the outside world, one of the most interesting things is his longing to go back to Room. It was a prison but it was the only world he knew, and his identity bound up with it. Adjusting to the outside world, even for Ma, is not easy.
What's also interesting is that after the escape the focus remains entirely on Jack and Ma and not on the details of Old Nick's conviction and ongoing case. Jack does surprisingly well with meeting new people and engaging in new experiences, while it's Ma who seems to regress. Eventually, they come back together and start to try and rebuild their lives.
Intensely moving, heartbreaking and told so innocently, this is a powerful tale that leaves you with a profound longing for justice, complete admiration for Ma and a mourning for lost childhood.