CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015
Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Jon Klassen.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2015.
244 pp., hard cover, $19.99.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Lisa Doucet.
But then the most amazing thing happened. There was a sound, a kind of low musical trill, and with it, points of light. I knew because I looked; for the first time ever I turned in my dream and looked. More and more tiny little bits of light surrounded the dark shape and landed on it, and the darkness started to dissolve and disappear, and I felt such relief.
Suddenly I was in that bright, cave-like space, lying on my stomach, and in front of me was her voice.
“We’ve come because of the baby,” she said. “We’ve come to help.”
“Who’s we?” I asked.
“We come when people are scared or in trouble. We come when there’s grief.”
I looked around at all the glittering creatures on the walls and in the air.
“Are you angels?”
“You can think of us that way.”
I stood up. I tried to look more closely at the angel in front of me. Her head alone seemed as big as me. It was a bit like standing before that huge stuffed lion at the museum, except the mane and whiskers were all light, and the eyes were huge, and the mouth never moved. She was magnificent, and I wasn’t sure she had a mouth at all, but I was aware, every time she spoke, of something grazing my face, and of the smell of freshly mown grass.
“Now,” she said, “my first question is, how are you?”
From the very beginning, everyone knew that there was something wrong with Steve’s new baby brother. While Steve and his parents and sister love this new addition to their family, their home is filled with anxiety and sadness as they worry and wait for the doctors to be able to tell them more. Steve’s younger sister, Natalie, is blissfully unaware that there is anything amiss, but Steve feels the weight of his parents’ fear as they make repeated trips to the hospital and hope that the baby will grow stronger, that some of the many things that seem to be wrong with him can be fixed.
Then Steve is visited by a mysterious creature in a dream. Surely she must be an angel, he surmises, and when she tells him that they have come to fix this broken baby, he allows himself to be comforted and to maybe believe in her promises. Torn between the conviction that these are only dreams and a disquieting sense that this could all somehow be real, despite what his parents and Dr. Brown say, Steve continues to visit this strange being in his dreams. But his uneasiness grows until he finally realizes that these are not angels after all, and he discovers the sinister nature of their plans for the baby. He must then find a way to stop the plans that he has inadvertently helped set in motion and to protect baby Theo at all costs.
Award-winning author Kenneth Oppel takes readers in a bold new direction in this allegorical tale of familial love, facing fears and finding the beauty within our brokenness. It is also a chilling horror story, one that delicately plays with readers’ minds and hearts while sending shivers up their spines. Jon Klassen’s subdued illustrations are the ideal visual accompaniment. The softly muted shades lend themselves well to the ominous tone that the author has set, and Klassen’s renderings of the various scenes further evoke feelings of quiet despair. With measured and precise prose, Oppel masterfully creates an eerie atmosphere, laden with dread, right from the very first page. Readers feel the oppressive sadness that permeates Steve’s house and the myriad of mixed emotions that war within him. He longs to believe that these otherworldly beings can truly make Theo better, and he wishes that he could ease his parents’ heartache and fear. However, he is also angry at them for being so wrapped up with the baby that there is no time left, it seems, for him. He also feels terrible shame and guilt because he knows, in his heart of hearts, that he is afraid of this baby, afraid of all the many things that are wrong inside of him and afraid that somehow the baby might pass those things on to him. So many conflicting emotions. Then this supernatural entity offers to make everything better by making baby Theo perfect. All Steve has to do is say yes...
In this haunting tale, Oppel plays on a child’s most basic fears and insecurities. The pacing is pitch perfect as information emerges slowly, gradually, and the tension builds. And as readers become aware of Steve’s own disabilities (his struggles with anxiety and OCD-like symptoms) they will realize that his fears are deeply-rooted indeed. If baby Theo needs to be replaced because of his broken bits, what does this mean for Steve, himself, broken as he is? Yet from the moment that Steve says yes, he knows in the depth of his being that he has made a mistake and that this pseudo-angel is wrong about their baby. For all the things that are wrong with Theo, he is still his own perfect self, just as he is.
The Nest provides a touching reflection on disabilities, on what it means to be “normal”, and, in essence, on the very nature of being human. Although it is, on the surface, a simple and simply-written tale for middle grade readers, it is, nevertheless, a book that will linger in the minds of readers of all ages. It has a fable-like quality to it that also makes it timeless in its appeal. A surprising and exquisite collaboration between two of Canada’s most accomplished children’s book creators.
Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.
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