The Nest

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Nest Book Poster Image
Poignant sick-sibling tale blurs lines of real and imagined.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Explores the inner workings of a wasp nest and typical wasp life cycles and behavior. Plus talk of DNA and pheromones and a glimpse of OCD behavior, such as frequent hand washing.

Positive Messages

Not a single person is perfect. We all have our challenges and faults, and it's OK to be the way we are. And, for kids especially, it's not a kid's job to make parents happy or make everything all better when there's a stressful event in the family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Steve's a thoughtful kid who suffers from anxiety and OCD and sees a therapist. He's easy to root for because he's so earnest and wants to do what's right. He's conflicted about what's right at first but immediately changes course when he realizes he's made a mistake.


A new baby in a family has a mysterious congenital defect and may die or be permanently affected with health and cognitive deficits throughout his life. An infant is subjected to constant tests and then heart surgery, and the family constantly worries. The line between dream and reality is blurred, but it's still freaky to see wasps -- sometimes giant, sometimes not -- swarm, sting, try to bite down on a head (with talk of eating people in the past), and cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Main character suffers nightmares about a man standing at the end of his bed, pulling off his sheets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 6, 8, and 11-year-old Written byRoss S. December 21, 2017

Storm of words inside himself, narrator suffers in silence while his parents protect him

An 11-ish-year-old boy experiences the PTSD-like effects of a slow-motion family emergency.

His parents have just had a new baby with some kind of birth defect... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 6, 2018


It's a good book, but is a bit mature and younger readers will/might get scared and may not understand it

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?

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