The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, Illustrated by Jon Klassen – Review by Jody Lee Mott
Warning: The Nest, written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is not a book for everyone. It is the kind of story that burrows itself into your brain and revisits you in the deep, dark midnight in the shape of slithering phantasms and shadowy nightmares. It is the kind of book that, if you find yourself reading it late at night, will send tiny prickles down the back of your neck and force you to keep checking under the bed to make sure nothing is lurking under there, waiting to reach up and drag you under when you least expect it.
In short, in a tale meant to unsettle you. And I loved every bit of it.
The Nest tells the story of Steve, a young boy struggling with anxiety issues, whose parents try and fail to hide their worries from him about their newborn infant who has been diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder. But when Steve dreams of an angel who promises to “fix” his baby brother, a little sunlight starts to creep back into his life. He realizes he can finally make a difference and take away his parent’s pain, if only he follows through with his promise to help the angel.
Not all is sunlight and roses, though. There are the calls his younger sister receives from a Mister Nobody that no-one else can hear, the strange visits from the knife salesmen with the pincer-like hands, and the large nest being built along the roof near the baby’s room by a colony of oddly pale wasps, whose venom could instantly trigger Steve’s severe and potentially lethal allergies.
Worse, when the angel reveals herself to actually be the Queen Wasp, her plan to “fix” the baby actually involve growing a—
No, I’m afraid I can’t tell what you that plan is. It is just too wicked and horrible to be believed. I also can’t explain what drastic steps Steve takes to thwart the Queen’s plans, which leads to a mind-boggling climax in which Mister Nobody and the knife salesmen show up in unexpected ways, and how the colony of wasps swarm out of a monstrous nest secretly constructed inside the—
But I’ve said too much already. You’ll have to read the rest yourself if you want to find out what happens.
Seriously though, this is well-written upper middle grade novel that is equal parts psychological thriller and fantasy, as well as a sensitive and insightful study of a boy trying to make sense of all the disparate paths of moral choice laid out before him, the end result of which is not always clear.
It is also, at times, quite intense, and may be overwhelming at times for certain children. For others, though, especially though who enjoy books such as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, it will be a scary and wonderful roller-coaster of an adventure. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Jody Lee Mott is a former Elementary and Middle School Teacher as well as the host of Dream Gardens, a podcast about Middle Grade fiction found at jleemott.com.