Nest (8 out of 10) – Written by Esther Ehrlich, published by Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, releases September 9, 2014.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I am not the target audience for Esther Ehrlich’s Nest. For a discerning adult male reader this is not going to be a waste of your time, but eight of ten is probably a bit high. For the target audience, approximately sixth-grade (the age of Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, the protagonist), this is a very touching coming of age story.
As a voracious reader from a young age I quickly burned through many of the awkward teenage classics. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and others were guaranteed buys when I’d bring home book orders in elementary school. One of my favorites in that genre has always been E.L. Konigsburg’s 1967 novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler. Perhaps Nest isn’t quite as good as that classic, but there is certainly connective tissue. Ehrlich even references Konigsburg’s book a few times, which is appropriate considering this novel takes place in the 1970s, when Frankenweiler would have been a fairly new story. Early on in Chirp’s story I also felt a connection to Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia but that faded as the novel progressed.
None of that doesn’t tell you much about the book if you haven’t read either of those. In some ways Nest is a very typical coming-of-age story. Eleven-year-old Chirp is precocious but slightly introverted. She has an older sister with your typical blend of moodiness and affection. Her psychiatrist father is equal parts loving and unapproachable. She adores her mother, a professional dancer now suffering physical and mental ailments. Across the street is Joey, a boy in her class that comes from a troubled family with a pair of bully older brothers. Chirp’s life changes dramatically when her mother is diagnosed with a dread disease and suffers a mental breakdown.
Considering this is a book for tweens you shouldn’t expect much in the way of plot. The twists and turns are predictable for an experienced reader but it’s the character study that’s important. I found the emphasis on character interesting for a work targeted at younger readers. In some ways the character focus is more reminiscent of Holden Caufield than Ramona Quimby. Much of the drama occurs in Chirp’s head rather than through external plot devices. If there is a noticeable lack in character strength it comes from Joey. He’s an interesting boy with his own troubling family story and there just isn’t enough him. The hints at what appears to be OCD seem like ripe territory and his abusive father leads me to believe Joey has his own story which might be more interesting.
Nest may not be for everyone, but I would definitely recommend for tweens and eclectic adults that don’t mind the author pulling a cheap tear from their eye. For a first novel Esther Ehrlich is off to a good start. Is it too much to hope that there isn’t enough Joey because Ehrlich’s sophomore effort will focus on him? If so, I’ll definitely be watching for that one.
Esther Ehrlich’s Nest will be available September 9, 2014 in physical or digital format. Get it from Amazon here.