Nest by Esther Ehrlich – A Review by Anjali Amit
Memories of the past: snuggling up with Mommy as she read aloud. Her selection was rich; we laughed together at the follies, held our breath as the heroes and heroines performed amazing deeds, ran with them through their adventures, and learnt from them.
One evening, she was half-way through the reading when I burst into tears. My confused mother could not understand why. “But this is only a story,” she repeated over and over. “Why are you crying?” Then I’d replied “Because the story is so sad.” Today I’d add “Because the story is so well written that the reader steps into that world, and becomes that character. ”
As is Nest, Esther Ehlrich’s debut novel. Slowly, ever so slowly, we are drawn into Chirp’s world. It’s a small town at the edge of a salt marsh, close to P-Town, two hours by bus from Boston. It’s an old world: “Lots of families have lived here for generations, which is why Mom and Dad say it is a hard community to break into…” And a quiet world. The summer visitors come and go, like migrating birds, but Chirp’s Dad had “fallen in love with the Cape way back when he was an intern at the Thorne Clinic and dreamed of meeting a women who’d love it like he did.”
So the Orensteins stay, and build their nest there: Mama, Papa, 13-year old Rachel and 11-year old Naomi (AKA Chirp). A nest is both a security of being and a launching pad into the world. How detailed is the nest the author’s words create. There is Dad, whose love is often overwhelmed by, and drowned under all the theories he has studied. You almost feel like shaking him into an awareness of the situation he is in and saying, “Its okay to let others take care of things in their own way. Give them room.” Dancer Mom, twirling through life and filling it with the song and laughter that helps the children when she is gone. Rachel, stepping into adolescence, and free-spirited fearless Chirp.
Traditions abound—alone days with Mom, alone days with Dad. And dancing, always dance and song. Till the hawk of ill-health swoops down. Little by little Mom succumbs; from a weakened leg to MS to sadness to deep depression to….suicide is not mentioned. Just a snippet of conversation, and Chirp’s awakening questions. How delicately the author walks the reader through the agonies of life.
What stands out strong is the love that illumines the story. Whenever it really matters Rachel and Chirp have each others back. That sisterly bond does not break, even when their mother’s death pushes them into roles they are not prepared for. Joey, growing up in a very harsh household still can empathize with Chirp and become the kind of friend we all long for. And Dad finally moves from living life by the book to living and loving.
There is something in the novel that brings to mind Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine. Both stories are set in small towns and feature young heroines different in their abilities and interests from the rest, but confident of themselves nevertheless. But where Mockingbird deals with the realities of modern life, Nest is a carefully woven tapestry of a simpler, more trusting time.
Author: Esther Ehrlich
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books Random house
Hardback: 329 pages
Genre: MG Fiction
Anjali Amit grew up in a family that revered books. At every new posting the family gladly gave away their clothes and toys, but clung to the books. The mountain grew higher…
Today she is a still a reader and a book evangelist who will buttonhole her friends with the next best book they just HAVE to read. She hopes to have her own book published one of these days.