The Nest

The Nest

The Nest
Kenneth Oppel

David Fickling Books

ISBN 9781910200865

"The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels." The baby is sick. Mom and Dad are sad. And all Steve has to do is say, "Yes" to fix everything. But yes is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back? Treading the thin line between dreams and reality, Steve is stuck in a nightmare he can't wake up from and that nobody else understands. And all the while, the wasps' nest is growing, and the 'angel' keeps visiting Steve in the night. A haunting coming of age story that will hold you captive, The Nest is lyrical, surreal and one of the most moving stories you'll read this year.

Librarian's Book choice


Reviews

The Nest4/5

The Nest

Kenneth Oppel

Review

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this story; it sounded a little creepy and I thought I may not enjoy it as 'creepy' isn't normally my genre of choice! However, I was soon hooked on what turned out to be a very well-written story, which kept you on the edge of your seat as the tension slowly built. The brilliant illustrations add to the eeriness of the tale creating a haunting picture as the story develops. As a shorter read this is perfect for those wanting a great story that doesn't take too long to read. The Nest is told through the eyes of a boy called Steve, whose mother has just given birth to his baby brother, Theo, who was born with very severe health problems. The implications of this are not quite clear but you know he is not going to be 'normal' if he survives at all. And actually this story very cleverly looks at what does 'normal' mean anyway? Steve is offered a chance to help 'save' his baby brother by a very unusual visitor, who appears at first in his dreams and seems heaven-sent. But she is no ordinary 'angel' and it soon becomes clear that her intentions are really quite unpleasant. The story cleverly weaves between the fantasy and the reality of the situation and you're never quite sure what is 'real' and what is a nightmare.... I found the hero of the tale very likeable, immediately connecting with his plight and it was his voice that kept me reading. Steve is a boy who has had his own anxieties to face and now he is trying to help his new brother and indeed, his whole family, but he is not sure what the 'right' thing to do is. His relationships with those around in him in what is a very difficult situation; facing the fact that the newest addition to the family is potentially facing a life limiting disability; are totally believable and as you would imagine them to be. The author paints the picture of emotions that Steve';s parents are feeling simply and beautifully, which I found very moving. Steve's younger sister provides a balance to this with an element of light-heartedness and although at first she does't seem to have much of a role in the plot, a surprise towards the end creates a clever twist. It's not really until you get to the end of the story you realise you have read something that deals with many issues at once; anxiety, illness, family relationships, facing your fears, hope even at the darkest of times. And I think that's the cleverest thing about it; it's a fable for anyone facing something out of the ordinary, it's about being brave and making a choice and standing by that choice no matter what. Read The Nest. You won't ever look at a wasp in the same way again! 244 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Victoria Dilly, school librarian.

Reviewed by: Victoria Dilly


The Nest5/5

The Nest

Kenneth Oppel

Review

This is a very unusual, disturbing, highly original, sensitive, and thought-provoking novel. The subject matter may be too disturbing for some, as it focusses on a deeply ill newborn baby and the effect the stress and worry has on a family, but I think this is a book that would make a great class read and comparisons to David Almond's Skellig are obvious, well deserved, and intriguing. Steve has a new baby brother who is very ill, he is always going to the hospital, needs a big operation, may die, and even if he survives he will never be properly well, never be 'normal' or 'perfect'. This desire for normalcy and perfection is the nub of the story. Steve has a history that is never clearly explained and is for the reader to decide the extent of. He describes his obsessive need to wash his hands, his nightly routine of going through two lists and constantly worrying about missing something, and he views himself as crazy and'low-functioning'. He is convinced that this is how his parents see him, and that his dad in particular is disappointed in him. However, it is easy to conclude from how Steve relays his parents' reactions to the reader that they do not actually feel or think like this. Because of this, his reliability as a narrator is questioned. This makes Steve a very interesting narrator because we do not know the extent of his unreliability - are some of the events of the story in his head; imagined, dreamt, or even part of a psychosis or are they actually happening? This unnerving dynamic is, to me, what makes this such a creepy story, because it makes you question which is worse and that is hard to decide. Suspense slowly builds as different seemingly odd random events begin to tie together: Steve's little sister's game of speaking to Mr Nobody on her toy phone, a sinister travelling salesman, the mysterious happenings in the attic, and the growing problem of unusual wasps making their nest at the side of the family's house. Steve becomes increasingly concerned about each thing as the situation with the baby escalates and his parents begin to seem more fragile. However, it is the wasps that particularly trouble him as they begin to inhabit his dreams. His already existing fear of them worsens after he is stung and has an allergic reaction. He later discovers that they are not a typical breed - in fact, they have never been seen before and their anatomy is decidedly odd. Thus, the breakdown between dreams and reality is heightened for Steve and in turn the reader. Steve initially thinks he is just dreaming and it does not really mean anything when he agrees to the Wasp Queen's offer to solve all of the baby's problems, to make him perfect, but as she becomes more demanding and threatening, he worryingly questions the true nature of her offer. It is now that Steve begins to become stronger, trying to deal with the nest himself, but also more comfortable and accepting of people's flaws - his own, the baby's, his parents. He realises that - maybe - all those other people were broken too in their own ways. Maybe we all spent too much time pretending we weren't. He now doubts whether perfection is actually perfect itself and what is normal anyway. Does he want a little brother who is so perfect that he doesn't know how, or care about, what it is like not to be perfect or is it better to have a brother who is deeply ill but is kind and a good person? By asking these questions this novel reaches such important philosophical depths that it would be a fascinating novel for teenagers and adults to explore alongside debates about disability and medical ethics. There is so much to this novel to discuss that I have not even mentioned the religious symbolism, the language, or the simple but clever black and white illustrations by Jon Klassen, which enhance the creepiness and claustrophobia of the story by using shadows, faceless adults, and distorting perspectives. I also love how the number of wasps that are at the start of each chapter increase as we get deeper into the book, until the penultimate chapter where there is a buzzing throng of them. This is because it is in this chapter where events come to a head and in what is a breathtaking, intense, and vivid denouement, Steve's true heroic nature emerges. The Nest has such a sinister quality especially due to the sense of the extraordinary in the ordinary that Oppel creates so vividly. It is a lyrical, haunting, confusing, complicated, poignant coming-of-age novel that brilliantly explores anxiety and the importance of perfection, which coincidentally parallels with another new teenage publication this month, Cecelia Ahern's Flawed . It is full of suspense, has an unusual and intriguing villain in the Wasp Queen, and is truly memorable. 256 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Natalie Plimmer, librarian.

Reviewed by: Natalie Plimmer