Forgive my rustiness, but I read this book on vacation back in July and neglected to review it then, so this review will be necessarily brief and vague. I've read a number of Lauren Oliver's books for YA, but Rooms is her first book written expressly for an adult audience. I've enjoyed her books, including Delirium trilogy (incidentally, my review of which has had more hits on this blog than any other) and Panic, but I've always said that I wished she would write a book for adults that had more nuance than her books for teens. With Rooms, it's as if she heard my plea.
Like her other novels, Rooms has multiple points of view, but unlike the pernicious and ever-pervasive present tense used in YA, this one actually dips into the past tense. Oliver also breaks her mold a bit by using both humans and ghosts to tell the story. Two ghosts are first person narrators, and then Oliver mixes things up a bit by slipping into a third person narration for the various humans involved.
Minna and Trenton are siblings with a sizeable age gap, and when their father dies, they head to his rambling and slightly ramshackle country house to make arrangements. Accompanying them are Caroline, their manipulative and alcoholic mother, and Minna's young daughter, Amy, and to say that they arrive at the house with a lot of emotional baggage is to engage in the most careless of understatement.
Alice and Sandra are two ghosts who have been trapped in this home for decades. They don't like much -- not the house, not the family, not each other -- and their bitterness comes across when it's their turn to narrate.
Moving from room to room in the house, the reader gradually gets a fuller picture of this broken family's lives, and the further along we go, the closer the story gets to taking a dark turn. This is not a thriller of a ghost story, designed to raise hairs or shackles or whatnot. But it is a satisfying and occasionally creepy read whose real scariness lies in highlighting the existential alienation that seems to be increasingly prevalent in our time of hyper-connectivity.
Here's an early excerpt from one of Alice the ghost's sections:
I like making bets with Sandra. It breaks up the space -- the long, watery hours, the soupiness of time. Day is no longer day to us, and night no longer night. Hours are different shades of hot and warm, damp and dry. We no longer pay attention to the clocks. Why should we? Noon is the taste of sawdust, and the feel of a splinter under a nail. Morning is mud and crumbling caulk. Evening is the smell of cooked tomatoes and mildew. And night is shivering, and the feel of mice snuffing around our skin. Divisions: that's what we need. Space and lines. Your side, my side. Otherwise, we begin to converge. That's the greatest fear, the danger of being dead. It's a constant struggle to stay yourself (3).Oliver is a good writer and a very smart woman. I had the pleasure of meeting her and listening to her read when she visited my bookstore a couple of weeks ago. There were a lot of aspiring writers in the audience, and the time she spent answering their questions and the thought that went into her responses really impressed me. Frankly, I was flabbergasted when the publisher decided to send her to our little corner of western Massachusetts, considering that her other tour locations were place like Boston, Miami, Chicago, and New York.
I think that one of the reasons our store's event proposal stood out was our promise to have a ghost photo booth for the event. Here's a photo with Lauren Oliver gamely posing in our photo booth, with a ghostly little girl emerging from the blowup of her dust jacket image. (And here's a shout-out to my friend Liz, whose suggestions and props ensured the event's success!)