Book Review – ‘The Nest’ by Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen

Expertly recapturing the books I loved in my youth.

The Nest Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Magical Realism

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered.

All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back? 


I’m not one to read middle-grade novels, but I’d heard from many sources that ‘The Nest’ was quite extraordinary. It reminded me heavily of ‘Challenger Deep’ by Neal Shusterman. That magical realism seated in some mental illness like anxiety.

The Nest’ deals with our protagonist Steven communicating with other worldly beings (wasps) that give him a status quo on life and the survival of his ill newborn brother. The whole family are trying to deal with the difficulties the infant faces, as well as their own demons. It may be Steve’s overactive imagination that brings the dreams, or mental illness manifest in the form of delusion. But we are treated to almost psychic predictions. These are then pitted against Councillors and Psychiatrists, and other adult figures with justifications. But in the mind of Steve, we never know what to believe. This theme is front and centre throughout the entire novel, as well as Steve’s fear: that if he comes completely clean about what is going on in his head, he’ll be committed to a Sanatorium.

The set up and narrative balances on the edge of fantasy and reality is done expertly and had me salivating with joy.

We see his character develop as he discerns fantasy from reality, and finding strength within to battle his personal and very real physical threats that circle him and newborn brother Theo. It’s a subtle journey.

I will say the last third of the novel really amps up the tension and pace. I could not take my eyes from the page, curling up my legs and twitching nervously. It was quite a surprise for a middle grade novel, such visceral images and such a menacing ambience. It carries that same creepy air you get from Roald Dahl novels.

Some charcoal, or possible pencil, illustrations are scattered throughout the novel in scribbly texture, one shade of grey that add to the unsettling tone.

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I was attracted by the cover art at first, and under the dust jacket holds another version of the cover, just as beautiful. The presentation of this novel is stunning. Deckled edges, thick solid hardback. Such a gorgeous addition to my library.

And the story is haunting, the kind of thing that stays with you for a while after. I would tend to say only the more mature end of middle grade would be able to digest this tome. The story is light, but the meaning dense. I could imagine kids feeling itchy and glancing about like a skittish horse at small movements looking for flying insects.

A short novel, I read in half a day, the prose is a little rich, so it is either educational for its target audience, leaning towards a discussion afterward, or meant for those hard core younger readers. Possibly something you could read aloud in a classroom as well.

Maybe if I was a lot younger I would give this a much higher rating, but for me, it lacked a little complexity – because that’s the type of book I’m used to reading. But I’d definitely recommend this solely for the experience.

Overall feeling: Blew me away.

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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