Book Review – The Rooms Are Filled by Jessica Null Vealitzek
March 18, 2015
The Rooms Are Filled is the moving, 1983 coming-of-age story of two outcasts brought together by circumstance: a Minnesota farm boy transplanted to suburban Chicago after his father dies, and his teacher, a closeted young woman starting over after a failed attempt to live openly. Readers will root for these two as they navigate their new lives, as they attempt to change to become who they are.
I was interested in The Rooms Are Filled when I included it on my Top Ten 2014 Releases I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Get To post. Recently, I learned that the author attended the elementary school I work at! I love small world encounters! What makes this so awesome is that our staff book club has selected The Rooms Are Filled as our April read, and Jessica Null Vealitzek has agreed to come and chat with us about her book! I couldn’t be more excited (and I promise a post about the encounter next month). I couldn’t wait that long to share my review though, so here you go:
- I loved that the book was set during the 1980’s, probably one of my favorite decades to revisit, and one that authors don’t revisit very often these days.
- I also have a soft spot for books that are set near where I live – this time in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Rumor has it that some of the locations in the book are some of my regular hangout spots, but I will have to confirm that with the author when I meet her!
- I loved the main characters of Michael and Julia. Vealitzek takes two very different characters, but creates such a strong and unifying bond between them based on their similarities. The histories of Michael and Julia are not what make them unique (although they are interesting and well-developed histories), but rather the relationship between the two of them that is so noteworthy.
- I appreciate when an author interweaves a prevalent social issue within the context of her fictional work. In this case, Vealitzek tackles the issue of sexual identity and how to live the love you choose. Although homosexuality is more widely accepted three decades later, we still have a ways to go as a society, and I think the author is able to tap into that with this novel.
- Vealitzek created good secondary characters, but I do not feel as if she took enough time to develop them fully. This is a relatively short book, and I think spending more time on the ancillary characters would have added to the book as a whole.
- I felt a little unsatisfied at the end of the book. There are so many unknowns, and I really like to be able to picture what may ultimately happen with the characters in a book.
- One of the knowns at the end of the book (and I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil anything for you), left me a bit disheartened that Vealitzek didn’t have the teacher making better choices for everyone involved. I felt that character of Julia was often self-centered, and I tend to like teachers portrayed in a positive light :).
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it left me wanting just a little bit more. This is Vealitzek’s debut novel, and I plan to read whatever she releases next, because I think she has a great deal of potential!
What did you think of The Rooms Are Filled?