Sunday, 15 March 2015

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

The old saying goes – don’t judge a book by its cover; though I have never really held with that. Not the metaphorical meaning, but the literal meaning. I’m talking actual books and actual covers. I believe that a book’s cover is incredibly important. The cover of a book is one very important way that authors can get their book some attention. When people are meandering in books stores, looking for a new book – what’s going to grab their attention first? The cover of the book. Many years ago, a friend of mine (who had never seen my book collection) was making fun of the fact that I was reading Kerouac’s On the Road. He said that I was only reading it because I had heard that it was a ‘cool’ book to read and that I probably would never have just picked it up from the bookstore. He said that ‘people’ (I put that in quotations because I am not actually sure what people he was referring to) only read books that they know, authors that they have heard of before or books that have been recommended. Now honestly, even at the time, I thought that was a load of bull. It didn’t even really make any sense, if people only read books that they know then no new authors would be discovered. But it is something that I have remembered ever since and I have always made a conscious effort to seek out books that I have no connection to, authors that I have never heard of, and… books with great covers. Because really – when you think about it – if you have never heard of a book or it author, how are you going to be attracted to it? That’s right. Its cover.

This is one of the (many) reasons that I am not fond of e-books. Besides the fact that you are never able to get the bookstore experience, wandering through the aisles, flipping through books and finding the perfect story. Now don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the convenience of the e-reader. I use one at the gym and have taken it on trips before. And I also understand that its easier for some people to hold, rather than a book; but at the end of the day I will always choose a book over an e-reader. Back to my main point however, even though you can sometimes see the cover of a book on your e-reader, it doesn’t hold the same beauty as the actual book. The covers, spines, when the pages are rough cut; there can be so much beauty in a book. Book covers have become a big thing since the advent of e-readers. Artists compete to design covers, coming up with dozens of designs before the publishers and authors choose the perfect one. Actually, maybe it possible to thank e-readers, by causing books to compete for sales it’s possible that it’s forced publishers to pay more attention to the books themselves. Make people see them as objects of beauty as opposed to just reading material.
Now I am sure at this point you are trying to figure out what I am blathering on about. Well – the cover is the reason that I decided that I wanted to read this book – Rooms by Lauren Oliver. As you can see the cover is bright orange, with yellow writing and a house on fire. It’s pretty vibrant and is definitely designed to catch the eye! In fact, it caught my eye twice; once at the bookstore, where I first saw it and added it to my ‘to-be-bought’ list, and then once again at the library where I finally decided to pick it up. After reading the synopsis of course – it’s about ghosts! And as we all know by now, I am a sucker for a ghost story.

Harper Collins, Sept 2014
Rooms is basically the story of a house haunted by ghosts and a family haunted by themselves. Richard Walker has just died and his estranged family has all come back to the old homestead to clean up and get their inheritance. His alcoholic ex-wife Caroline who has always played the victim, even when she doesn’t really want to but she can’t seem to play any other role. His daughter Minna, whose low self-esteem and daddy issues have led her to sleep with any man who exhibits the tiniest amount of interest, has come with her young daughter Amy. And last but not least Trenton, Richard’s teenage son who may be the only person he loved Richard, but who was injured in a car accident years ago and has never really recovered, and who takes teenage angst to a new level, contemplating suicide in the old family home. But the family is not alone. Alice and Sandra live in the house as well. Well, live isn’t quite the right word is it… since they’re dead after all. They inhibit the walls, the creaks in the floorboards, the dripping faucets and the flashing lights. Alice and Sandra were both killed in the house years earlier and have never left, although we’re not sure why. Alice wonders why she is there as well, she says that she has no unfinished business and isn’t that the only reason that ghosts would stick around? Alice believes that hers and Sandra’s existence must be tied up with the physicality of the house itself.

Both the family and the ghosts are currently having some trouble. Caroline, Minna and Trenton cannot stop bickering and when Richard’s will leaves a huge amount of money to a mysterious woman, things start to get pretty heated. And while Alice and Sandra are reminiscing about their own less than wonderful memories and commenting on the Walker family; a new ghost has popped up. This doesn’t seem to make much sense, since Alice is convinced that the only way a new ghost could appear would be if someone died on the property, and she has no recollection of that happening. While all of this is happening, Trenton is slowly spiralling out of control and as he comes closer to killing himself, he is also coming closer to breaking the barriers between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Oliver has done a pretty good job of setting up a series of little mysteries to be solved without distracting from the family drama and the recollections of Alice and Sandra. The actual set up of the novel is neat – the chapters with Sandra and Alice are told in first person, while the chapters with the family are told in third person. But honestly, I am not in love with this novel. I am enjoying it for sure, but I feel no real connection with any of the characters; in fact, I don’t really feel anything about them positive or negative except for Caroline. I despise her and really want someone to put her in her place, maybe slap her into taking some responsibility. Trenton and Minna are kind of annoying, although I commiserate with them – their parents seemed rather useless, but I don’t really care that much. And I find the existence of Sandra and Alice interesting, I want to know more about them and why they are still haunting the house, I am pretty sure that neither of them are very reliable, but still… I don’t really feel a connection to them. I just don’t really care what happens to any of the characters in this story.


I will definitely keep reading, I do want answers and even though I don’t really care about the cast, the storyline is pretty good. Lauren Oliver is primarily an author of YA novels and I wonder if maybe that’s why the characters are not as relate-able or believable? In my experience in reading YA novels, characters tend to not be very multi-faceted – not as well rounded or fully fleshed out as they would be in an adult novel. Regardless, I approve the cover design and am proud to say that I would have been sold on the cover alone. There is nothing wrong with wanting to read a book based on cover alone and it’s not a bad thing to not absolutely adore every book you read.  

One of my favourite teas to curl up with when I am cold is David's Chocolate Chili Chai. It provides the warmth of hot chocolate, but with a nice little spicy kick to finish it off. This is also a great tea to drink while reading ghost stories. The little kick in tea can take your mind off of the scariness of the afterlife.

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