Every once in a while, there is a book that challenges my perceptions of what Young Adult Literature is, and The Nest is one of those books. The middle-level psychological thriller is a fast, frantic read that left its mark on me, much like a wasp does with its flight and sting.
Steve is the protagonist of our story, and he is an anxious kid and has been to therapy to help him deal with his anxiety. His family is going through an especially trying time–his new baby brother having congenital heart issues: Nothing’s scarier than having a sick child, and one so newly born, and so vulnerable. It’s the worst thing for a parent.
The dreams start in the midst of all of this family turmoil and are calming to Steve, for the beings in the dreams promise that they can help his brother. Although Steve first thinks that these supernatural entities are angels, he comes to realize that they are wasps, and they are building a nest that is attached to his home.
When Steve doubts the reality of the dreams to himself, the queen wasp stings him, and it’s a bite that carries over into the real world. It is at this point that Steve and his family realize that Steve is allergic to wasp stings and must carry an EpiPen in case of future stings. The queen promises Steve that everything will be OK—the wasps just need Steve’s help. When he finally says “yes” to helping the wasps in their endeavor, he realizes that the wasps are building a replacement baby for Theo and plan on switching the new baby with his brother.
All of this burden is only on Steve’s shoulders. His parents are preoccupied with the baby’s health, his younger sister seems to be in a world of her own, and the neighborhood knife salesman seems to be haunting the neighborhood as well. Steve is the only one who can save his brother from the wasps.
This brisk read relies heavily on action, and it’s the absence of some details that cause the reader’s mind to forecast the impending doom. It is the striking imagery that readers will hold onto, and this is accomplished through Oppel’s words and Klassen’s stark artwork. The beginning of the novel was especially amazing, and although I wished the ending had less of a direct message (which came from the queen), the book packs a punch, much like Janne Teller’s Nothing (an intense novel for high school readers). Simply put, The Nest a book you’ll never forget. The fact that the thriller is brought down to a middle-level is an added bonus.
When I finished book talking this novel to one of my classes, a student said “That’s horrifying.” Yes, it is, and you should definitely check it out.