Nest by Esther Ehrlich is a literary upper middle grade to lower YA novel (read: “tween novel”) about a young girl named Naomi, or “Chirp,” living in 1970s Cape Cod and what happens to her family when her mother, Hannah, is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Chirp is obsessed with birds and copes with her family situation by birdwatching and through her growing friendship with Joey, a boy living across the street who also wants to escape his own trouble family life.
This novel does not hold anything back. Prepare to cry your heart out as I did when I read this. While it does end on a hopeful note, there are some terribly sad moments. Part of me was completely shattered for poor Chirp (and my gut reaction is always NOOOO!!!), but the realism of her situation and the author’s research into Hannah’s condition (mental and physical) made these events feel very authentic and necessary.
An additional layer to this is that Chirp and her family are Jewish. At the beginning of the novel, the Jewish information and moments felt added in–it felt like we were being told that Chirp was Jewish rather than being shown (the editor’s note at the start including Yiddish words also adds to this feeling). However, as the novel progressed and there are a few spot-on and humorous moments, her heritage begins to feel more organic. For example, Chirp isn’t sure if she’s allowed to say the word “Jesus” and feels strange seeing a bible in a motel room, things I could totally relate to having grown up Hindu in Arkansas.
However, the one issue for me in this book was the pacing. While this is a literary, character-driven novel and an action-packed plot would have been completely wrong for this book, I still felt there were times when I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going or what type of story I was reading. I loved the bird information and images (especially loved the Cape Cod setting), but these tidbits weren’t tied as closely as I’d expected to the storyline.
All in all, this is a heartfelt, thoughtful book that will speak to kids looking for a more serious read or are going through tougher issues in their own lives, but aren’t quite ready for the mature romances in many young adult novels.
Disclosure: Review of free ARC I received through NetGalley.