Life is not always easy and it takes a long time to understand who you are.Sometimes unexpected challenges become a part of our lives and we have to learn to cope. That’s why the book Nest by Esther Ehrlich is a book we recommend. Our friend from Sweet on Books, Melissa Gaynor shares more about this family book for mature children:
- Chirp, a young girl growing up in Cape Cod in the early 70’s, must cope with the confusion and sorrow that illness and death bring to her family.
- **spoiler alert** Chirp’s mother commits suicide.
- Birdwatching is a favorite hobby of Chirp’s so the story includes plenty of detail on the subject.
- Chirp is Jewish and her story includes relevant holidays, beliefs, customs, and even a little Yiddish.
- Consistent with the era in which the story takes place, there are subtle references to sex, drugs, and alcohol.
- Nest is the first novel for Esther Ehrlich. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
Nest by Esther Ehrlich is an emotional, multi-layered story that feels very true to life. The characters are authentic, their feelings are genuine, and their dialogue is realistic. Told in the first person present tense, it is easy to connect with the main character and to become invested in what happens to her. Unfortunately, what happens to her – and to her family – is quite tragic.
Naomi, otherwise known as Chirp, is an 11 year-old Jewish girl living in a non-Jewish neighborhood on Cape Cod in 1972. That alone would be enough for one girl to handle, but then her mother, a dancer, is diagnosed with MS. When Chirp’s mom realizes that she will never dance again, she falls into such a deep depression that she has to be hospitalized. Despite several months there, she returns home somber and melancholy. Shortly thereafter, Chirp’s mom commits suicide, leaving Chirp, her dad and her sister, Rachel, to cope with the loss. When no one, not even her “headshrinker” father can comfort Chirp, she deals with her pain by running off to Boston with her good friend, Joey. Poor Joey has troubles of his own, with signs of OCD, a dad who is overly strict, and brothers who are troublemakers. Chirp and Joey form a special bond, turning to each other for support during a difficult time in both of their lives. Together they discover that running away from reality can sometimes be more painful than facing it.
The story is told in a tender way, with references to 1970’s music, literature and culture, but the tragedy of the situation is impossible to ignore, and the author does not make any attempt to do so. Chirp’s memories of her mother, pre-illness, run parallel, and in stark contrast, to the woman her mother becomes post-diagnosis, and these memories trigger both pain and joy. Readers take a difficult journey with Chirp, as she watches her mother get sick, as she learns of her mother’s death, experiences the funeral, and contemplates the circumstances under which her mother took her life. In the end, however, they also see where Chirp finds comfort and strength, how she comes to terms with her loss, and how resilient the human spirit can be. It is not a book that I would give to every child, but for those who can handle it, Nest is a powerful story and Chirp is a character that they will not soon forget.
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