& Review: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Rooms by Lauren Oliver.  Fiction. Publisher: Ecco

Rooms by Lauren Oliver.
Fiction. Publisher: Ecco

The Book Itself: I had the ARC of this a few weeks before the book was released. And the hardcover cover art is much better than the ARC – brighter colors, roots from the roof and basement of the house branching out (reminiscent of veins?). ‘Tis haunting and bright, all at the same time.

My Review: 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.

Apparently this is Lauren Oliver’s first adult book. She’s primarily a YA author, but I’ve yet to read her other works. Anyone read Delirium? Before I Fall? Panic? (Did I miss any?)

Anyway, Rooms has a lot of characters going on.  Every chapter alternates views between ghosts Alica and Sandra, and then the living inhabitants Caroline, Trenton, Minna, and even Minna’s young daughter, Amy. And there’s a lot of tension at play: Caroline drinks, Trenton is depressed and suicidal, Minna is promiscuous and lost, and the ghosts hate each other. It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of pasts to reconcile.

It gets messy.

Which, I mean, it should. It’s a messy situation: the estranged patriarch dies, leaving piles upon piles of stuff in this haunted house, as well a large sum of money to another woman (SCANDAL!). These people don’t get along. These ghosts don’t get along. So the book should not get along smoothly.

Despite the mess, the prose is smooth, even beautiful. There are secrets abound, and when each one is revealed, it is done so with just the right amount of impact.

I did feel that there were a lot of similar secrets. Infidelity and depression, especially. Now, I don’t mean to downplay either of these things. Both are serious issues. Anyone dealing with them, whether within themselves, or helping out someone else go through it, has a long hard road to recovery. But there was a lot of cheating going on in this book, for several characters. It almost felt like a crutch at one point. Sort of a what-should-be-this-characters-deepest-darkest-shame? Infidelity. Either they were cheated on, or they cheated on others, multiple times. It stopped being shocking, it stopped being sad.

There’s sort of this side story where Trenton befriends a girl who basically breaks into the house one day. The girl I don’t think was made into a round character at all. She’s kind of a red herring, in fact, and isn’t formulated much beyond that. Her connection to the story was tenuous, and could have been cut. I would not have missed her (there are enough characters as it is!)

In the end, not everything is patched up. Which I also found fitting. If all the characters left as changed people, I would have called foul. The final scenes are bittersweet. We leave the ghosts, we leave the Walker family with the idea that maybe (hopefully), they’ve all learned something, but there is still a long way to go.

If you’re good with a little ghost story, if you can deal with the messy voices of a dozen messy people, pick this book up. Enjoy the well-written prose, enjoy the atmosphere.

My Grade: B

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