A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel (The Boundless) may be a short read that looks fit for younger tweens, but the tone is dark and sometimes nightmarish. The main character, Steve, a thoughtful kid who experiences anxiety and OCD, finds the line blurred between dream and reality, and it will be blurred for the reader, too. Not a dream: His baby brother has a mysterious congenital defect and may die. His parents suffer constant trips to the hospital and worry. What borders on dream and reality: Wasps (sometimes giant in size) swarm, sting, and cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Despite the story's dark edges, a poignant message emerges about acceptance of challenges and struggles and being who we are.
What's the story?
As the oldest child in the family, Steve grasps what his parents are going through. His baby brother is home from the hospital but with a mysterious congenital defect that will require many more tests and operations. His parents are stressed and concerned and try to hide it from Steve's little sister, Nicole. All the focus is on the baby until Steve is stung by a wasp on a hot summer day. A small reaction requires a trip to the hospital and an EpiPen. That night he dreams of a creature surrounded by light who tells him words of comfort: They can fix the baby. And after more dreams the creature becomes more real -- too real, resembling the queen wasp that stung him. She is full of comfort and promises and knows things she should never know. How? Steve wonders. What should he believe? Steve's stress and feelings of conflict grow as the queen wasp asks too much of him.
Is it any good?
With expert pacing, hopeful messages of accepting faults and struggles, and creepy tension, it's hard to decide what to like best about this tiny but significant novel. Author Kenneth Oppel, who wrote the equally enthralling The Boundless only a year before THE NEST -- he's really on a roll -- presents a family struggling with the stress of a sick baby through the eyes of Steve, a boy whose age isn't given (but he's probably in middle school). He's anxious enough to see a therapist, washes his hands too often, and is afraid to even say the name of the family's new baby who's come into the house and may not live.
That in itself would be a compelling story in Oppel's hands. But then there are Steve's dreams about the wasps that are way too real. And a scary knife sharpener with missing fingers who goes door to door. And a toy telephone the little sister answers to talk to "Mr. Nobody." Readers will be torn like Steve about what to believe is real and who's really on his side. The tension builds right after Steve makes a profound decision about what he stands for. And he's willing to risk his life for it. After readers close the book and the tension of the climax fades, the beautiful themes in The Nest linger. A favorite: that Steve's family will have struggles and his brother won't be perfect but he's part of the family and is loved and valued for who he is, just as Steve is loved and valued.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what was supposed to be real in this story and what was imagined. Could you find the line? How much time reading did you spend searching for that line? Did it feel very important to know? Why, or why not?
Readers will also have to sort out good forces from bad. Did you decide before or after Steve did?
Steve's family is going through a stressful time. How does each member of the family react to that stress? How do members of your family react to stress and sadness?
- Author: Kenneth Oppel
- Illustrator: Jon Klassen
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Brothers and sisters, Bugs, Misfits and underdogs, Science and nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: October 6, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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