Edition 17: Book Review: Rooms by Lauren Oliver
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
With the Halloween season comes the pull toward all things spooky. So, for this edition of SQ Mag, Rooms by Lauren Oliver looked like it fit the bill. The book is the first foray into adult fiction by this bestselling YA author. For the most part, the writing was superb, but unfortunately the actual story didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
Rooms opens with the two main protagonists, ghosts Alice and Sandra, taking bets over whether the house’s current resident, Richard Walker, will die at home or in the hospital. After his death, his estranged family arrives to take care of the arrangements. We’re introduced to his ex-wife Caroline (an alcoholic), son Trenton (a suicidal teen), his daughter Minna (a sex addict), and her daughter Amy (a normal six-year-old).
The story unfolds as the Walkers try to sort out all the things and baggage that Richard left them with. Through it all, ghosts Sandra and Alice are quietly observing all the happenings, while reminiscing about their own lives in that same house. We learn that Alice lived there during WWII, and Sandra during the 80’s. Along with the present-day scenes narrated by the Walkers, we are taken on a multi-generational tour of all the rooms in this house and all the memories that lie within. Once Trenton begins to sense the ghosts, we are clued into the secrets of how these lives and former lives have converged.
Through rich metaphor and simile, combined with distinct character voice, Ms. Oliver delivers a feast of words. Chapters switch viewpoint between both living and dead characters, giving us a broad view of the plot. The book is sectioned into individual rooms, where we witness the actions of the present and the memories of the past. I found this layout to be unique and interesting. The short chapters narrated by different people kept me engaged enough to keep turning the pages.
Despite the ghostly duo of Alice and Sandra, Rooms provided more drama than spook. The paranormal aspect surrounding Trenton’s sixth sense was more of a side plot and device for plot reveals. While some of the events in the past and present are indeed morally horrifying, they’re not make-me-shiver horrifying. Perhaps that was the author’s intention, but when it’s listed under the horror genre, I like to be at least a little scared.
Beyond the lack of spook, the beautiful metaphors often became too dense, slowing the pace instead of bringing us into the action. At least half of the story consisted of recollections of the past, some of which seemed unnecessary to the plot, while drawing us even farther from the current action. If not for the short chapters and changing viewpoints, readers might be tempted to leave it unfinished.
A few other factors kept this from being a great read. All main characters, save for Amy, were dysfunctional to a grimacing fault. Save for Caroline’s alcoholism, their dysfunctions were very similar, with sexual deviancy and infidelity at the forefront of their issues. The explicitness and frequency of those misdeeds seemed forced, as though the author was trying too hard to make this an adult book. The twists at the end, when the stories converge, are mostly predictable and not twisty enough to bring this story to a powerful and memorable conclusion.
All in all, Rooms didn’t fully deliver on spook or plot, but proved to be a well-written, engaging read. If you enjoy psychological drama more than chilling thriller, it’s worth a try. Due to the explicit language and depictions, it’s definitely more appropriate for the 18+ crowd, though a well-read mature teen may be able to digest the story with no aftereffects.
Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Ecco, 2014
Mysti Parker is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. She is also the proud writer of Unwritten, a blog recently voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award.