I received an advanced reader copy of this book at BEA 2015
Before we get into this review, I need to say this first:
Wow that flag gif takes me back to the internet in my high school days, where wireless was just a dream and power point was my lord and master…. ANYWAYS.
THIS BOOK WAS SO CREEPY. CREEPY DOES NOT BEGIN TO COVER IT.
Are you afraid of wasps? Yes, then don’t read this book
Do you just don’t like bugs in general? If yes, don’t read this book
Did you grow up in Toronto in the 90s and have intense nostalgia for your childhood? Yes, okay maybe you can get through this… But you may be a little different coming out on the other side.
The Nest is a novel in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Our main character is a young kid named Steve. It’s heavily implied that Steve may have a mild case of OCD, which plays an important role in the plot. Steve has a new little brother, who he refers to as the baby. You see, the baby was born with a few complications. He’s very sick.
The first thing that struck me with this book is how Oppel does not hold back. Steve overhears some of his parents conversations over the course of the novel and Oppel gives it to you straight. Even if Steve is unable to understand what his parents are saying, it doesn’t mean you, the reader won’t. This works on a really clever level to ground the story in our world, in reality. These are conversations, real parents would have and make the baby’s problem all the more real.
Working against this is the “other world” or “dream world” that Steve enters. Oppel gives you enough that hints that you work out where Steve is before Steve does and this makes it all the more eerie. Steve’s angels are wasps, you know not to trust them. Steve doesn’t. Things get downright creepy.
The Nest deals with perfection and how no one is actually perfect. The Wasps tell Steve that they’re there to help because of the baby and that they’ll make the baby better. He’ll be perfect. Over t he course of the story Steve comes to realize that perfect does not necessarily mean better. Not only does he come to accept his little brother but he comes to accept himself and all his own quirks.
Sometimes we really aren’t supposed to be the way we are. It’s not good for us. And people don’t like it. You’ve got to change. You’ve got to try harder and do deep breathing and maybe one day take pills and learn tricks so you can pretend to be more like other people. Normal people. But maybe Vanessa was right, and all those other people were broken too in their own ways. Maybe we all spent too much time pretending we weren’t. (pg 117)
The fear of not being good enough is something that would resonate with young and old readers alike.
Steve’s mindset is reflected in the style of the writing. For any story the prose would come off as a little bit lacking, but it works in the context of the story. We are reading The Nest from Steve’s perspective and the text reflects the voice of a young kid. It makes to really easy to Steve’s into his head. It also causes this really strange disconnect an easy read about difficult subject manner.
if the tone of the writing wasn’t dark enough, there are the illustrations done by Jon Klassen. The black and white sketches work so well with the story. My favourite ones come later on in the book when the stakes are at their highest. I could totally see The Nest as a short animated film, done in the style of Klassen’s illustrations.
When Klassen signed my copy at BEA he drew a wasp. I thought it was cute at the time, now my opinion has changed a little.
The Nest is marketed towards a 9-12 audience, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t strike a chord with an older audience. Especially, in my opinion, my generation. Through all the darkness and the greyness of this novel Oppel manages to capture the feeling that was summer break as a kid. This book brought me back to how I felt when I was growing up. The Tool Sharpening Man was a staple in my neighbourhood, and Oppel is right when he points out how no one ever sees him doing any business… but he keeps coming around. Also, I loved the winks at Canada through the novel. At one point Steve talks about going to the CN Tower in Toronto. It made me smile.
If you’re a fan of Kenneth Oppel or Jon Klassen, or if you really like creepy stories, than I suggest you pick this book up. You will not be disappointed. But be warned, if wasps made you uncomfortable before…. well good luck.
Also, this felt extremely relevant: