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(Booklist - Starred Review July 2015)
Steven’s parents just had a baby, Theo, but there’s something wrong with him, and a pall of worry and sadness falls over his family. Meanwhile, a papery wasp's nest appears under the eaves of the house, just outside Theo’s room, and Steven starts to dream of an angelic wasp who promises to fix whatever’s wrong with the baby. At first, Steven is comforted by the wasp’s soft assurances. But the wasp’s plans grow more and more sinister until they turn shockingly ugly: “before you know it, you’ll forget all about that crappy little broken baby.” In Steven’s restrained present-tense, first-person narrative, the wasp’s dreadful plan slowly creeps into view, while Steven becomes increasingly determined to protect Theo, even though it would be easier for everyone if he weren’t sick or broken. The brilliance of Oppel’s storytelling lies in his ability to seamlessly integrate the wasp’s cruel beliefs about worthiness into Steven’s own fears about himself. Steven, who has a therapist to deal with his anxiety, believes he, too, is broken and it isn’t until he understands the grotesque lengths to which the wasps plan to go that he accepts Theo—and himself—for all his imperfections. Klassen’s eerie, atmospheric illustrations, all shadowy corners and half-concealed shapes, contribute to the spooky mood. With subtle, spine-chilling horror at its heart, this tale of triumph over monsters—both outside and in—is outstanding. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Printz-winning, New York Times best-selling Oppel and Caldecott-winning Klassen are a match made in kid-lit heaven. Expect ample buzz. (Booklist, *STARRED REVIEW July 1, 2015)
Steven must fight for his own life as well as for his baby brother's when he's offered a chance to exchange human life for something better. Steve has figured out strategies to cope with many of his anxieties and OCD behaviors, but this summer the pressure is on. Readers see through Steve's eyes his parents' fears for the new baby, whose congenital health issues are complicated and unusual. Readers may find parallels with Skellig in the sibling anxiety and the odd encounter with a winged creature—but here the stranger is part of something sinister indeed. "We've come to help," assures the winged, slightly ethereal being who offers a solution to Steven in a dream. "We come when people are scared or in trouble. We come when there's grief." Oppel deftly conveys the fear and dislocation that can overwhelm a family: there's the baby born with problems, the ways that affects the family, and Steve's own struggles to feel and be normal. Everything feels a bit skewed, conveying the experience of being in transition from the familiar to the threateningly unfamiliar. Klassen's several illustrations in graphite, with their linear formality and stillness and only mere glimpses of people, nicely express this sense of worry and tension. Steve's battle with the enemy is terrifying, moving from an ominous, baleful verbal conflict to a pitched, physical, life-threatening battle. Compelling and accessible. (Kirkus, *STARRED REVIEW August 1, 2015)
*"Compelling and accessible." (Kirkus Reviews - Starred Review August 2015)
* "Oppel uses a dark and disturbing lens to produce an unnerving psychological thriller." (Publisher's Weekly - Starred Review July 2015)
Oppel (The Boundless) enters Gaimanesque territory with his portrayal of Steve, an older brother struggling with anxiety and his family’s distress after his newborn brother, Theodore, is diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder. After a curious gray and white wasp from the hive above their house stings Steve, he develops the ability to speak to the hive’s queen, who promises to replace the ailing baby with a new one. Agreeing to the queen’s offer, Steve confronts a dangerous traveling knife sharpener, his parents’ concerns over his mental health, and strange phone calls from Mr. Nobody, a family legend turned real, it seems. As Theodore’s health deteriorates, Steve must decide what is best for his brother and what he will do to save him. Oppel infuses the natural world of the hive with chilling scenes of the queen’s heartlessness (“Before you know it, you’ll forget all about that crappy little broken baby”) while Klassen’s graphite drawings hauntingly depict the family’s stress (an early image, all angles and shadows, shows Steve’s parents standing solemnly over the baby’s crib), as well as increasing tension between Theodore’s complications and the wasps’ growing power. In exploring the boundaries of science, self-determination, and belief, Oppel uses a dark and disturbing lens to produce an unnerving psychological thriller. (Publishers Weekly, *STARRED REVIEW July 20, 2015)
Steve has always been a worrier, but since his brotherwas born he’s become even more anxious. When Steve starts having dreams aboutotherworldly wasps, he takes comfort in their message that everything will beokay. But the more he learns about their plan to “fix” the baby’s congenitalcondition, the more he’s conflicted. The tension and unease grow as Stevebegins to wonder if the wasps are real or imagined. The story comes to aclimactic end that is cathartic and comforting. Set in a modern-day suburb,this quiet yet emotionally haunting book thoughtfully explores themes ofsafety, anxiety, and the beauty of the imperfect. Klassen’s black-and-whitegraphite illustrations complement the sensitive and powerful narrative, writtenin first person from Steve’s perspective. The images have a retro, printmakerfeel, and never reveal the entire picture, leaving much to the imagination—whatis hidden in the unknown? Is it something bad or good? How can you know? Thecharacters are believable and strongly developed, especially Steve, who dealswith anxiety and possibly Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Scientific informationon the life cycle, anatomy, and behaviors of wasps is woven in a way thatfurthers the plot. VERDICT This affecting middlegrade psychological thriller is recommended as a first purchase for libraries. (School Library Journal *STARRED REVIEW August 2015)
* "Emotionally haunting...This affecting middle grade psychological thriller is recommended as a first purchase" (School Library Journal - Starred Review August 2015)
Steve’s baby brother came home from the hospital sick (“there was something wrong with his heart and his eyes and his brain”) and needing lots of care, so his parents don’t pay much attention when Steve becomes afraid of the wasps in the backyard. He finds comfort in a recurring dream in which a compassionate voice offers to make everything better. All Steve must do is say yes to the offer, and his dream confidante will turn her promise of a healthy baby into reality. But as he learns more about the wasps that have built their nest outside baby Theo’s room, this easy fix starts to look like too sinister a bargain. Oppel’s (Airborn, rev. 7/04, and sequels; The Boundless, rev. 5/14) newest novel is a tight and focused story about the dangers of wishing things back to normal at any cost. The language is straightforward, rarely derailed by extraneous details, but the emotional resonance is deep, and Steve’s precarious interactions with the honey-voiced queen make one’s skin crawl. Klassen’s full-page black-and-white drawings—simple, but with maximum impact, in shades of light, dark, and darker—astutely capture the magnitude of a child’s imagination when he can rely only upon himself. (The Horn Book Magazine *STARRED REVIEW* September/October 2015)
* "a tight and focused story about the dangers of wishing things back to normal at any cost....the emotional resonance is deep, and Steve’s precarious interactions with the honey-voiced queen make one’s skin crawl." (The Horn Book - Starred Review September/October 2015)
"Nest"is supposed to be a cozy sort of word, but not in The Nest, a chilling nailbiter from PrintzHonor author Kenneth Oppel (Airborn).
Steven is an anxious boy. He worries about everything, most of all his sicklybaby brother, Theo, who has a congenital disease no one can quite figure out.At first, Steven thinks he's being visited in his sleep by gossamer-wingedangels, haloed by light. But these are no angels. They materialize to Steven assilvery human-sized wasps, announcing that they've decided to replace thesickly Theo with a perfect, healthy baby, and that they need his help. Stevenis confused as to what to do, because his family is a wreck, but it doesn'ttake long for him to realize that perfection isn't real, nor even desirable. Could the wasps"fix" him, too, then? Make him less compulsive and fearful? If theydid that, would he still be himself? What would be the cost? The wasps pullSteven into a world that goes even deeper than DNA, burrowing into humanexistence on a mitochondria-level. But manufacturing "perfection"starts to look sinister indeed, and readers are challenged to examine questionsabout what "normal" is and, indirectly, the ethics of geneticengineering, all in the guise of a fantastical thriller.
Caldecott artist Jon Klassen's (ThisIs Not My Hat, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole)moody graphite illustrations help build the sense of horror, and wasps hoverover chapter openers in disturbingly larger numbers as Steven's internalstruggle escalates to a full-on, real-life battle for survival.
Discover: In Kenneth Oppel'shaunting novel, a boy grapples with some nightmarish wasps who offer to replacehis sickly baby brother with a healthy one. (Shelf-Awareness For Readers *STARRED* October 9, 2015)
*"Readers are challenged to examine questions about what "normal" is...all in the guise of a fantastical thriller." (Shelf Awareness - starred review October 2015)
"Striking and scary at once...The Nest leaves a lasting mark on the memory, and by the end, Oppel tenderly champions the world of the broken and anxious, the sick and the flawed. Readers will find much to savor here, both scary and subtle." (The New York Times Book Review October 11, 2015)
"A sophisticated horror story...frightening and uncanny but also deeply humane in its probing of the way value may be given to, and taken from, imperfect life." (The Wall Street Journal October 16, 2015)
‘The Nest,’ by Kenneth Oppel
By AIMEE BENDER OCT. 9, 2015
In folklore, the figure of the changeling often involves an enchanted piece of wood placed in a crib by fairies that a parent finds instead of her baby. The wood might become ill and die, or the fairies might skip the wood altogether and leave a fairy-baby instead, carting the little human off for other purposes. Either way, there’s a particular kind of terror inherent in the situation: to look in a crib expecting to see one’s cooing infant and instead find something inert and unknown. Maurice Sendak’s picture book “Outside Over There” captures the horror with a rich gorgeousness, where the replacement baby is made of ice, and glows milky and terrifying and odd on the page.
Kenneth Oppel’s new middle-grade novel, “The Nest,” also explores this alarming terrain, but he has artfully flipped the role of the changeling. What if one’s child, one’s flawed and ill child, a child even headed for surgery, was set to be replaced through the agency of some wasp-like fairies, whose baby-creation will be whole and happy and gleaming and well? What if the parents never, ever know that the new baby slipped into the crib is not their own, but someone else does?
It is a predicament Huxley would have appreciated. With an adroit hand, Oppel writes from the point of view of Steve, the baby’s older brother, the only character who sees what is happening and may be able to do something about it.
Steve is an anxious kid. He sleeps with his covers bunched up on his face because he wants to be cocooned, he washes his hands too often and he reads long gratitude lists obsessively every night before sleep. Early in the book, he begins dreaming of angel-like wasps, one in particular, a queen, who speaks to him with “huge dark eyes, and a kind of mane made of light.” Her words soothe and unsettle. She, like Steve, is concerned about the welfare of the new baby, and she has some ideas about what to do. “We come,” she reassures him, “when people are scared or in trouble.”
One of the strengths of the pacing is that for the first half of the book, the allies and villains are not completely distinguishable. The wasp queen calms Steve in a genuine way. Somebody else, whom the family calls Mr. Nobody, keeps calling the house and not saying anything. Despite my hunches, I found myself deliciously unsure whom to side with for a number of pages. In large part, this is due to the allure of Oppel’s imagery, which is striking and scary at once: A dissected wasp with nothing inside it. A knife grinder who drives slowly around the streets but has no customers. A toy phone answered with glee by Steve’s little sister. Occasional illustrations by the wonderful Jon Klassen, dark and secretive, only add to the mood.
As the story progresses, Steve’s dreams intensify, clues emerge and fear mounts. Steve is increasingly worried, unsure how to track what is in his mind and what needs fixing in the world, and Oppel attends to his narrator’s fears and internal conversations with honesty and care. “I felt,” Steve says, “like my head was being crammed full of crumpled bits of paper, and I was trying to unfold them all to read the answers.”
In fact, Oppel is so light-footed in these parts, so careful to let the imagery do the bulk of the work, vivid and unanalyzed, that when, toward the end, Steve and the queen have a final talk that outlines the story’s themes clearly, the broader strokes of the writing don’t carry the same weight. Perhaps there is an expectation that middle-grade readers need more spelling-out, but I don’t think it was needed. And although I found the subsequent big action sequence gripping, and turned the pages rapidly, I still missed the delicacy I had felt so keenly in the earlier pages, when Oppel takes his time drawing the world through the eyes of a preadolescent boy who is so scared, and so attuned.
That said, “The Nest” leaves a lasting mark on the memory, and by the end, Oppel tenderly champions the world of the broken and anxious, the sick and the flawed. Readers will find much to savor here, both scary and subtle.
By Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
244 pp. Simon & Schuster. $16.99. (Middle grade; ages 10 and up) (Aimee Bender The New York Times, 10/9/15)
A brother’s ambivalence about a troublesome younger sibling finds supernatural expression in Kenneth Oppel’s “The Nest” (Simon & Schuster, 244 pages, $16.99), a sophisticated horror story made even more intense by Jon Klassen’s bleak, monochrome illustrations (right). Steve is a boy with “issues,” as people say: He is anxious, plagued with nightmares and morbidly afraid of wasps. Now his baby brother has come into the world “all busted up inside,” and it seems that the infant may not live.
Ten days after the baby’s birth, Steve dreams that he has entered a beautiful lighted cave with strange, papery walls. In dreams that follow, he returns to converse there with a warm, enigmatic, gossamer-winged personage. She promises him a new baby—a better one. All he has to do is say, “Yes.” “It’s like opening a door,” the creature assures him tenderly. “It’s like fanning a flame. It’s the most powerful word in the world.” Almost as soon as Steve accedes, he is appalled, but it may be too late to stop the events that his momentary weakness has set into motion. This is a striking novel for readers ages 10 and older, frightening and uncanny but also deeply humane in its probing of the way value may be given to, and taken from, imperfect life. (The Wall Street Journal October 2015)
"Effectively taps into primal fears...a vicarious thrill." (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books November 2015)
Steve has always had a fear of wasps, and of the darkshape that stands at the foot of his bed in his nightmares. When his brother,Theo, is born with multiple health problems, Steve’s dreams become sweeter; infact, the figure that visits him seems like an angel, offering help for thebaby. He soon realizes, though, that she is a wasp, and her offer is not toheal Theo but to replace him with a baby she and her workers grow in a nestoutside Steve’s house. Desperate to believe she is just a dream, Steve entersinto a horrible contract to help the queen take his defec- tive baby brotherand replace him with a perfect one; when it comes time to act, however, hefights with all he has to prevent the wasps from taking the baby. This horrorstory manifests the inner conflicts that arise when a new sibling doesn’t enterthe world easily; Steve is jealous of the attention the new baby demands,angered by the sadness Theo’s problems bring his parents, and disappointed inboth his brother and his own reaction to him. With the help of a babysitter,Steve comes to realize that everyone has his or her share of brokenness, and hemust face his own as he fights for his brother. Broody, atmosphericillustrations by Jon Klassen focus attention on important themes by depictingemotionally poignant moments and key objects with metaphoric resonance. Thestory effectively taps into primal fears, but readers’ identification withSteve’s brave and resourceful responses mitigate the horror enough to provide avicarious thrill. The book makes an interesting thematic pairing with Almond’s Skellig(BCCB 3/99), as both explore otherworldly responses to anxiety over afragile sibling. (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books November 2015)
Steven's baby brother was born with congenital birth defects and has spent much time in the hospital. Steven is a worrier, with nightmares and rituals he must follow. But the dreams he is having now seem much more real. One night, an angelic being tells Steven in a dream that the baby can be fixed. He finds that they're not angels, but strange wasps. At first glance, this appears to be nothing more than a horror story. But the creepiness is nicely balanced with insight into OCD behaviors, brotherly love, and the range of emotions that accompany a child with birth defects. These themes don't popup very often in youth fiction, and they elevate this story to another level.The novel contains occasional b&w illustrations which are a nice touch, but they don’t really do anything for the story. This is a quick read, with the right amount of suspense and mystery. JenniferL. Hartshorn, Collection Development Specialist, Concord, New Hampshire[Editor’s Note: Available in e-book format.]
Recommended (School Library Connection February 2016)
"A quick read, with the right amount of suspense and mystery. ...Recommended." (School Library Connection February 2016)
(Booklist Starred Review July 2015)
*"Compelling and accessible." (Kirkus Reviews Starred Review August 2015)
* "Oppel uses a dark and disturbing lens to produce an unnerving psychological thriller." (Publisher's Weekly Starred Review July 2015)
* "Emotionally haunting...This affecting middle grade psychological thriller is recommended as a first purchase" (School Library Journal Starred Review August 2015)
* "a tight and focused story about the dangers of wishing things back to normal at any cost....the emotional resonance is deep, and Steve’s precarious interactions with the honey voiced queen make one’s skin crawl." (The Horn Book Starred Review September/October 2015)
- Publication date : October 6, 2015
- File size : 24110 KB
- Print length : 272 pages
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (October 6, 2015)
- ASIN : B00TBKYJ8Y
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Lending : Not Enabled
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‘The Nest’ deals with our protagonist Steven communicating with other worldly beings (wasps) that give him a status quo on life and the survival of his ill newborn brother. The whole family are trying to deal with the difficulties the infant faces, as well as their own demons. It may be Steve’s overactive imagination that brings the dreams, or mental illness manifest in the form of delusion. But we are treated to almost psychic predictions. These are then pitted against Councillors and Psychiatrists, and other adult figures with justifications. But in the mind of Steve, we never know what to believe. This theme is front and centre throughout the entire novel, as well as Steve’s fear: that if he comes completely clean about what is going on in his head, he’ll be committed to a Sanatorium.
The set up and narrative balances on the edge of fantasy and reality is done expertly and had me salivating with joy.
We see his character develop as he discerns fantasy from reality, and finding strength within to battle his personal and very real physical threats that circle him and newborn brother Theo. It’s a subtle journey.
I will say the last third of the novel really amps up the tension and pace. I could not take my eyes from the page, curling up my legs and twitching nervously. It was quite a surprise for a middle grade novel, such visceral images and such a menacing ambience. It carries that same creepy air you get from Roald Dahl novels.
Some charcoal, or possible pencil, illustrations are scattered throughout the novel in scribbly texture, one shade of grey that add to the unsettling tone.
I was attracted by the cover art at first, and under the dust jacket holds another version of the cover, just as beautiful. The presentation of this novel is stunning. Deckled edges, thick solid hardback. Such a gorgeous addition to my library.
And the story is haunting, the kind of thing that stays with you for a while after. I would tend to say only the more mature end of middle grade would be able to digest this tome. The story is light, but the meaning dense. I could imagine kids feeling itchy and glancing about like a skittish horse at small movements looking for flying insects.
A short novel, I read in half a day, the prose is a little rich, so it is either educational for its target audience, leaning towards a discussion afterward, or meant for those hard core younger readers. Possibly something you could read aloud in a classroom as well.
Maybe if I was a lot younger I would give this a much higher rating, but for me, it lacked a little complexity – because that’s the type of book I’m used to reading. But I’d definitely recommend this solely for the experience.
This is my first Kenneth Oppel, and I'm not quite sure if he's written anything else. I purchased it because I really enjoyed the synopsis, but when it arrived I was a little wary of the number of pages and font size. It looked a lot simpler than it turned out to be. I mean, wow, what a creepy book! I had no idea this was categorized as middle-grade horror. It really was an excellent read that pulls you in.
Stephen's family is having some trouble, his baby brother was born with problems and the doctors don't think there's much they can do for his weak heart. His parents spend all their time with his brother or at the hospital, and he finds himself alone a large portion of the time, either with his younger sister, who is caught up in her own world or with the babysitter. There's also a knife sharpening man who drives by every so often that plays a role in the book, and of course, the strange dreams.
After getting stung by a wasp, Stephen begins to have dreams of some sort of angel speaking to him every night. She talks to him about the baby and offers to help him get better...in fact, she promises Stephen that with her help, the baby can become "perfect". At first, Stephen does not take the dreams seriously, they're just dreams, right? So he doesn't ask too many questions, and does not take the questions asked to him by this "angel" too seriously either. However, he soon realizes that this angel is actually a wasp, and she is able to communicate with him this way because he was stung by one (by her, to be precise). She is the Queen of the nest, and she assures him that with her help she can fix all his problems. Stephen becomes worried as things the Queen tells him begin to happen, realizing that these aren't just dreams anymore. Soon enough, Stephen realizes that the Queen's solution to making the baby better is to replace him with a completely different one. A "perfect" version of him. Stephen struggles with the temptation as he sees his parents suffering day in and day out. He doesn't know what to do, and can't seem to decide what the right thing to do is.
Eventually, he makes a decision. But was it the right decision to make?
I read this book in one sitting, and found myself at the edge of my seat as I neared the end. All the characters mentioned above play different parts in how this book ends and the decision that Stephen ends up making.
Gripping, terrifying story. I found myself hugging my 5 month old son extra tight that night, grateful for his health and existence.
Best book I've read all year, its haunting and fast paced and I got choked up at the end from a two word sentence which I was not expecting.
I bought it originally because of the Jon Klassen artwork (being a fan of his) and am so glad I did, the story was amazing and his art added to the creepy vibe. Very unsettling.