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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Review: The Nest (Assignment 1, 7 - 12 years)

Oppel, Kenneth. (2015). The Nest. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.
It's unusual to describe a book aimed at middle school children as a "psychological thriller", but that's exactly what The Nest is.
First-person narration is provided by Steve; a boy old enough to not want a babysitter, but young enough to still be afraid of the dark, and whose family is currently struggling with the congenital illness of Steve's baby brother.
While his parents remain preoccupied with the newborn, Steve begins to have strange dreams in which angels promise him they can fix his brother and restore happiness to his family. All Steve needs to do is say "yes". But yes may not mean what Steve thinks it means.
Because the story is told from Steve's point-of-view, the reader is privy only to his limited understanding of the world around him. He can record his experiences but not their wider context, such as his parents' visits to the hospital, their whispered conversations, and the fraught atmosphere of the house.
There's also evidence that Steve suffers from anxiety and OCD, but Oppel never explicitly spells it out. In keeping certain details opaque, he can explore heavy subjects such as death, duplicity and human imperfection by "concealing" them within a story that focuses on more fantastical elements.
Jon Klassen's evocative graphite illustrations are also worth mentioning – like Oppel's prose, they're crafted as though through the eyes of a child; from low angles that make everything seem large and vaguely threatening.

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