Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rooms - Lauren Oliver

Summary: Lauren Oliver makes her adult debut with this mesmerizing story in a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
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My Review: Loner and eccentric collector Richard Walker has passed away. Now his estranged family including ex-wife Caroline, teenage son Trenton, and daughter Minna with her own child Amy in tow, arrive to clean up the house and claim their inheritance. Returning to this home they once shared as a family will draw up memories, some better left forgotten. And serveral surprises await them. Richard did not lead a nice and orderly life. His avid collecting has left the large house in dire straights. The will, with it's mention of an unheard-of woman, is not as expected. Oh and the house is shared by two ghosts.

The ghosts, Alice and Sandra, died years ago and cannot leave the house. They have no voice so they use the sounds of the house to communicate with the inhabitants (except for Trenton who seems to be able to hear them well). Perhaps because of this restriction all the action in the story takes place on the estate, either in the house itself or on the grounds outside. When a third ghost enters the scene things become a little claustrophobic and the house seems to be breaking at the seams, as do the occupants, both living and dead. The only way out is to face the inner demons each character carries but this is not an easy feat.

The story is told in alternating voices. Each chapter is narrated by one of the main characters, including ample time for the ghosts. The chapters are  neatly labeled for easy distinction. This allows the reader to quickly get familiar with the characters, to know what each is not only saying but thinking and feeling. Each character is carrying a heavy secret that is drowning the happiness out of life (or death in the case of the ghosts). These secrets are slowly unraveled throughout most of the story, hooking the reader. The stories begin to weave together allowing the book to flow effortlessly, much like a ghost on the move.

Readers who must like the characters in order to enjoy a book be forewarned. These are not likable characters. If fact, with the exception of Amy (because an unlikable six-year-old would have been unbearable), none of the characters possess a redeeming quality until the final chapters, where even then it it questionable for a few. Their words, actions, and self-destructive behavior will leave a bitter taste. Yet despite all these individual flaws the relationships between the characters really work. Alice and Sandra banter like an old married couple. Minna and Trenton struggle to understand each other but the sibling love is evident. And mother Caroline, while she has no chance of winning mother of the year, no doubt wishes to protect her children.

The story overall is suspenseful and packed full of drama. It has touches of humor and plenty of surprises throughout. It is haunting in unexpected ways. Though this might not prove to be an all-out genre break through, Oliver has proven her skill to write for a more mature audience. The end encompasses a solid message regarding the power of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, and the importance of letting go of past mistakes.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sensitive Readers: Oliver leaves no question that this is a adult book. She does not hesitate to use profane language, sexuality, drugs, and alcohol throughout. Some of it is necessary for the plot while other instances are over-the-top, almost as if thrown in just to prove this is not a young adult title.

To Sum It Up: A fantastic premise with a well done, though not perfect, execution. Rooms is a mix of the the fantasy Oliver is known for in her young adult books and realities of life.

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