Friday, May 8, 2015

The Nest

The Nest
Kenneth Oppel
Jon Klassen (Illustrator)
Simon & Shuster, 2015  244 pgs
Grades 3-7

Be prepared to get creeped out.  Steve lives with his parents, younger sister and new baby, who struggles from health issues.  Being an anxious child and long-time nightmare sufferer, it comes as no surprise that with all the stress the family is undergoing with the new baby Steve's nightmares come back.  He begins to have a reoccurring dream of being visited by a caring angle who is concerned about the well being of his family and the sick baby.  As time goes on Steve realizes that the angel is really the queen of a nest of wasps.  The town is suffering from a particularly bad summer wasp invasion and Steve's house sports a large nest.  It is discovered that Steve is allergic to wasps and Dad is having a hard time getting an exterminator to the house due to the distraction of the sick baby and the unavailability of the exterminator.  The wasp queen continues to visit Steve at night, finally offering to "fix" the baby.  All Steve has to do is say "yes".  In a moment of stress and weakness Steve finally says "yes" and what follows is the stuff of nightmares.  Is it all real or just a figment of Steve's anxious imagination?  Who is the knife sharpener lurking around the neighborhood, who the neighbors can't see?  Who is "Mr. Nobody", Steve's sister's imaginary friend, whose voice Steve actually hears on a toy phone?  These and other questions will be satisfactorily answered by book's end in this highly imaginative novel for young people.

Wow!  What a cool book!  I feel like I've read everything under the sum and then, once in a while, a book keeps me up until after midnight reading.  That was The Nest.  I couldn't go to sleep until I found out what happened to Steve and the Baby.  Kenneth Oppel (already one of my favorite authors for young people for his amazing and creative plots) teams up with Caldecott winning Illustrator Jon Klassen (another favorite) to create a power-house team.  The book is creepy on its own and really doesn't need Klassen's moody illustrations, but they fit the book perfectly and send it right over the top.  As we read the story we learn more about Steve's anxieties and begin to see him as a possible unreliable narrator, doubting whether this wasp thing is happening at all.  I love that Oppel actually answers that question and doesn't leave the reader always wondering.  Kids need a firm conclusion and open-ended books drive them crazy.  Oppell knows what scares kids (stinging bugs, family problems that they can't control, sketchy adults) and always writes for his audience.  The book is atmospheric and dark, but moves quickly, keeps us guessing and is impossible to put down.  The writing feels like a cross between Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury and ever word is intentional.  Both boys and girls will love this book, although its not for everyone.  The Nest is truly creepy and only kids who enjoy reading such books will enjoy it.  That said, those who do will have found a treasure.  The Nest is not released until October, which may be just as well.  You don't want to read this book during wasp season!

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