Rooms by Lauren Oliver

RoomsRooms by Lauren Oliver

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The more I read, the harder I find it to rate novels. The biggest challenge for me comes in the 3-4 star range, in which, there are books which are engaging reads, but which I’m also aware aren’t necessarily well written.
Also falling within this 3-4 star range are books in which I feel like the author has talent, and is trying to achieve something out of the ordinary, but which don’t fully succeed.
Rooms, an adult novel by author Lauren Oliver, was difficult for me to rate for these reasons. It was an engaging read; it kept my attention and the pages seemed to go quickly. But, I felt overwhelmed by all the perspectives, characters, “rooms,” mysteries….It was all very interesting, and at times the writing was beautiful, but I’m not sure that Rooms worked together for me as a powerful, cohesive whole.
There are scenes, such as those featuring sex addict and struggling single mother, Minna, which have strong emotional resonance. Minna’s self-destructive tendencies, combined with her insight that her decent high-school boyfriend (who refuses to submit to her sexual advances) might be just who she needs, are compelling and tragic. I wanted to know what would happen to Minna, and felt disappointed that her story was more fully explored.
I found some of the other characters’ stories to be less convincing. Rooms included just about every “big issue,” from domestic violence, to extramarital affairs, to car accidents, suicide, teen angst and alcoholism (plus others which I won’t mention as they would be spoilers). I think perhaps having so many characters, with so many problems, meant that each “big” issue lost impact.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Lauren Oliver, who has written several extremely popular young-adult novels (which I understand also deal with “big” issues). At times, I wondered what distinguished this novel as an “adult” story.  That is actually a question I would like to ask the author, as well as other readers who enjoy the blossoming young-adult genre.
Another thing which I found off-putting about Rooms was the author’s use of swearing and graphic descriptions of bodily functions in a way that seemed intended to shock the reader. I have no problem with swearing, or gritty descriptions as such. But you know how when some people swear, it seems put on, or forced, like a performance? This was how the swearing and crude toilet descriptions and metaphors came across in Rooms. These things seemed juvenile and out of place in a novel about longing, regret, and release.
Rooms reminded me in some ways of the recently published, A Sudden Light, by Garth Stein. Both feature haunted houses and dysfunctional families, and deal with the secrets of the past. I found Rooms to be less frustrating than A Sudden Light because it seemed less judgmental and didactic. But while I found the myriad of human stories in Rooms interesting, I’m not sure that I felt satisfied at the end of the novel. Rooms was an entertaining book, but I don’t know that it will stick with me, or change the way I view the world.

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