Thursday, October 16, 2014
Nest, by Esther Ehrlich
Early on, Chirp's mom is diagnosed with MS. She can't dance anymore, and with this loss her mental health declines even faster than her bodily health, to the point where she is eventually hospitalized for depression. At this point, I must say that my involvement in the book lay more with the mother than the MC. Because I imagined losing writing the way the mother lost dancing, and even though I know I could not make writing my identity the way the mother made dancing hers, it would still be hard at times not to do exactly that. On top of this, having a therapist husband didn't spare the mother at all, or even really help her any.
As Chirp goes through the absence of her mother, the acting out of her sister, and the misunderstanding of her well-meaning father who doesn't really get her, she becomes friends with Joey, a somewhat sketchy neighbor boy who in the opening scene is throwing rocks at poles. Joey has problems of his own at home, and the personal pain each one carries makes their friendship fragile, in part because Joey understands Chirp's situation from the start whereas she's mainly blind to his. The 1970s details were a pleasant trip back in time for me, but also a jolting reminder that back then issues such as child abuse and mental illness were both swept under the rug and less gently treated. One example of this is the matter-of-fact way that Chirp refers to her mother's place of confinement as the nuthouse.
This is a beautiful book, well written and with affecting emotions. While I don't really want to issue spoilers, I feel some obligation to point out that the book gets a lot harder, sadder, and darker before the story's through, and it could be a bit too much for a very sensitive middle-grader. Other than that, though, this is highly recommended.