I recently listened to the middle-grade audiobook Nest by Esther Ehrlich and absolutely loved it! It’s a warm, moving story of what happens when tragedy hits, and the power of family and friends.
Eleven-year old Naomi lives on Cape Cod and is known, even at school, as Chirp because of her love of birds. She leads an idyllic life among the salt marshes in 1972 with her psychiatrist father, her dancer mother, and her 13-year old sister, Rachel. Lately, though, her mom has been struggling with strange symptoms – like numbness and pain in her once-strong legs. Chirp and Rachel try to cheer her up by performing their signature dance together in their matching bikinis while their mom watches from the bedroom window. One day, their mom falls down the stairs and is taken to the hospital and everything changes in an instant.
Chirp and Rachel’s mom has been diagnosed with MS, and as her symptoms worsen, she must leave her dance career behind, a devastating loss. Soon, she is dealing with terrible depression in addition to MS, and their household has transformed from a warm, happy place to a dark and somber one. Chirp is expected to keep going to school, but everything feels wrong to her, and she doesn’t know where to turn.
Meanwhile, Rachel is drifting away from Chirp, just when she needs her sister most, going to parties, pining after boys, and wanting to spend more time with her friends. Besides finding solace in nature, Chirp starts to become closer to Joey, a boy in her class who lives across the street. Joey has lots of brothers but seems different than them and is often left on his own. The two kids, each dealing with their own problems, come up with an impulsive plan of escape and adventure.
This is Ehrlich’s first novel, and she has written a very real, touching story about what happens when your world changes dramatically, from a kid’s perspective. She has juxtaposed these dramatic, life-changing events alongside normal adolescent problems in a very realistic way, with an exciting climax and satisfying resolution (though I was still worried about Joey at the end!). She also perfectly captures the time and place, with lots of details of kid life in the 70’s. Being a mom with a chronic illness, I can tell you that she got it all exactly right – the numbing feeling that everything has changed while the outside world continues around you like nothing happened. I loved every moment of this warm, poignant and ultimately uplifting story and can’t wait to read more from this author.