In Esther Ehrlich’s middle grade novel Nest, 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein is growing up in 1970s Cape Cod in a quiet, small town and she loves birds. She’s a bird watcher who can recite a wide variety of facts, some quite interesting, about many different bird species. But Chirp’s family is soon thrust into the small town spotlight when her dancer mother is diagnosed with MS and enters a deep depression. Chirp deals with her mother’s downward spiral and the whispers around town by diving more into ornithology and by befriending the adorable boy next door, Joey.
That description of Nest probably makes it sound lighthearted, and in many ways it is. Chirp’s bird factoids and her relationship with Joey are sweet and funny. I particularly liked when spunky Chirp and Joey got in mini fights at school or on the school bus. They seemed like completely believable little kids. And even with the dark undertone in this book, we see the innocence of children and what they do to deal with these issues, because this book is much more than Chirp, Joey, and her birds. Chirp is dealing with a family dynamic that is rapidly changing because of her mother’s disease and depression. Chirp’s father doesn’t quite know how to handle raising Chirp and her older sister and Chirp has a hard time understanding what is happening.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s obvious that I loved Chirp and Joey, but what I think I loved the most was how these issues were handled. This is a book full of weighty issues that doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Depression? Check. Homelessness? Check. Child abuse? Sadly, check. Some of these things are shown openly, and some, like child abuse, are not, which actually lends more credibility to how realistic this was.
This was a great book that reminded me of Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now, and while I think Okay for Now is a stronger book, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nest thrown in the ring for some children’s book awards.