The Nest

“We’ve come because of the baby,” she said.  “We’ve come to help.”

That’s all I had to read on the book jacket to be hooked.  There’s a problem, a possible trauma, surrounding the birth and/or care of a baby?  I’m in.  Not because I revel in such things, but because I look for solutions, for ways other people dealt with such things, for ways to support others in similar situations.

But The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (illustrated by Jon Klassen) is so much more.  It is rated for ages ten and up, but I found it compelling and psychically scary as an adult.

There is a baby, the main character Steve’s new brother, and he has an unnamed degenerative disease.  There is confusion on Steve’s and his sister, Nicole’s, parts.  There is the overarching sadness that permeates the entire family’s lives.

There is also a recurring vision that Steve has.  A group of luminous wasps that visits him in his dreams and offer to first help, and then ‘fix’, the baby.  This is where the psychological component of the story comes in.  When dealing with trauma and situations far above our intellectual or emotional understanding or ability, it makes sense for the brain to conjure up solutions.  However, Oppel blurs the line between Steve’s inner world and outer reality.

Steve struggles with an unnamed mental illness, one in which he makes bedtime lists and washes his hands so much that they “got all chapped and red, especially around the knuckles”; that makes him feel as if he is “all in pieces . . . like [he] had a hundred shattered thoughts in [his] head, a hundred glimmering bits of stained-glass window, and [his] eyes just kept dancing from one piece to the next without understanding what they meant or where they were supposed to go.”

In his dreams, the wasps – the queen in particular – talk to him about the baby’s condition, about how sad a situation it is and what might be done to remedy it.  Steve senses his parents’ sadness, feels his own.  He feels helpless, both in not knowing exactly what is wrong with his brother and not being able to do anything to improve it.  The queen gives him a solution.

 

“It’s just not something you can patch up with a bit of string and sticky tape.  No, no, no, we have to do this properly.  Go right back to the beginning of things.  Go deep.  That’s the proper way to do things.  No half measures around here!”

“You mean going right inside the DNA?”

“DNA – aren’t you the clever one!  Yes, good, you’re on the right track.  And we’ll go deeper back still.  That’s where it will make the most amazing difference.”

 

Steve’s relief at the queen’s assurances of making his baby brother better does not last as she reveals more of her plan, however.  It was never about ‘fixing’ this baby; it was about replacing him with a superior one.  In this special nest just outside the nursery window, they are incubating a baby from the larva state – to replace the ‘broken’ one inside.

Ironically, Steve is petrified of wasps and soon discovers he is allergic to them when one stings him on their back deck.  The fact that he looks to the very thing that terrifies him to solve a problem that terrifies him even more speaks to the psychic line Oppel dances along through the entire book.  Another exterior fear, the man who travels the neighborhood in a van offering to sharpen knives, delves into his interior world as well.

All of this swirls around Steve’s compelling need and desire to keep his brother safe.  It is not about perfection – for either of them – but protecting our true selves.  Whether mentally ill or physically disabled, the dignity of an individual human life is paramount.  And Steve dives into his worst fears to safeguard his brother’s.

the-nest-9781481432337_lg

 

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2 Comments

  1. Well, I must read this book!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  February 22, 2019

      Though it’s YA, it freaked me out a bit! Probably because of the psychological aspect. So interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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