Thursday, September 4, 2014


Title:  Nest
Author:  Esther Ehrlich
Publication Information:  Wendy Lamb Books. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0385386079 / 978-0385386074

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "One thing I know is that you can keep someone company without ruining their privacy."

This story is told through the voice of Naomi "Chirp" Orenstein. Chirp is eleven years old and is growing up in a small town on Cape Cod in 1972. Her nickname comes from her fascination with bird and bird watching. Life has been good. She lives in a beautiful place and is surrounded by a loving family - her dad, her mother Hannah, and her sister Rachel.

Yet, all is not well now. Hannah is experiencing strange symptoms that are changing her from the vibrant, happy, loving mother Chirp has always known into a sad, distant person. The diagnosis of these symptoms and the ensuing events change this family's life forever.

Chirp finds solace in the birds and in trying to get things to be the way they were.  Her childlike belief that everything can be fixed is beautifully depicted. Her efforts and the efforts of her sister to make their mother happy are heartbreaking to read. They try music, dance, gardening and cooking - all the things their mother loves. They try being really quiet and not bothering their mother so she can rest. Nothing seems to work.

Chirp also finds a friend in Joey, the boy next door. Joey's character is an interesting one, viewed through eleven year old Chirp's eyes. For her, he is the boy with the tough older brothers, the boy who can be nice or not, and the boy who proves himself her friend. As an adult reader, the issues Joey faces become clear, and he elicits compassion. The fact that despite his own troubles, he reaches out to help Chirp make him an endearing character. Joey would an interesting point of discussion between an adult and a younger reader. What would a younger reader see in the glimpses we get of Joey's life?

Two characters whose role I don't understand in the book are Dawn and the lady in the woods. Dawn is a young girl in Chirp's grade. She faces many learning challenges and is often the target of ridicule. Chirp and Dawn are not friends, but Chirp is a friend to Dawn, sitting with her on the bus and helping her in school. The only role I see for Dawn in the book is to draw a picture of Chirp's character as compassionate and kind. Yet, for that, she is a big part of the book without really being a part of the story.

The lady in the woods is someone Chirp has never met and someone she never really meets in the book either. We never learn who she is. When Chirp takes to the woods to watch birds, the lady is "in her spot." Chirp offers help, but is rebuffed without any words or conversation. Perhaps, she appears again and perhaps not. Again, it's unclear what purpose the character serves in the book.

The religious references in the book also stand out because they center around the fact that the Orensteins are the only family of their faith in this small town. The references do not imply the comfort that religious beliefs can bring in a crisis. The references do no introduce teachings of faith and its implications in a crisis. The references only come up as the fact that their religion sets them apart. While many children can relate to that feeling of being different, this story already has enough setting Chirp apart to make anything additional unnecessary.

The target audience for this book is grades 5 and up, in other words, ages 10 and up. It takes on topics that many middle schoolers will relate to - school, siblings, friendships, and family. The main plot of book is a dark and sad story, taking on some very serious issues that I hope no child ever has to face. It's hard to say more without revealing the plot line. As an adult, I was moved emotionally at points. I am not sure a middle school audience is ready for the seriousness of this book unless they are unfortunately in that same situation, and I don't know that a young adult audience would relate to an eleven year old narrator. It's unclear where the exact audience for the book will lie and what their reaction will be.

Chirp and Joey are delightful, charming characters, but the darkness of the plot and the unclear components make the story less charming than the characters.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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