Saturday, August 9, 2014

"Nest" by Esther Ehrlich, a Beautifully Written Young Adult Novel About Grief

"Chirp" loves birds, especially the elusive Red-Throated Loon. She rises at dawn, grabs her knapsack with binoculars, notebook and pennywhistle, and heads for the shore.


It is 1972 and she is in sixth grade. Her dancer mom, psychologist dad and older sister Rachel have an idyllic life. Unlike her neighbor Joey Morell whose dysfunctional family locks him out of the house when he does not meet his father's expectations.

Illness comes into their lives as the mother is diagnosed with MS and falls into a deep depression. When hospitalization and shock treatment fails, she is found drowned. The story of how the family copes, or does not cope, spirals into a satisfying climax.

When I was sent an invite to read The Nest by Esther Ehrlich I was surprised. I took a peak at the book and read it in one day.

I was impressed by the vivid portraits of Chirp and her family, fleshed out and realistic. Chirp is child enough to still use the power of imagination to escape or magically try to change reality. Rachel's sarcastic and contrary teenage life is changed as she tries to take on a mother's role in her sister's life. Rachel is on the brink of womanhood, sometimes able to play like her little sister, but trying to fit into older teen society.

Chirp's relationship with the sympathetic Joey was also very true. I remembered my experience at that age with a neighbor boy. His mom was not mentally well, and would lock the kids out of the house when she went shopping. The two older kids, a year and two years younger than I, would play together. The boy and I would take Dad's telescope out at nights and look at the moon, making up stories about outer space. At twelve I was oblivious to the fact the kids were not clean and were a bit wild. I was very sad when the children moved in with their dad and missed our friendship.

There is a blossoming of understanding as Chirp and Joey when they decided to run away. Chirp wants to return to the scene of a happy memory, only to find that memories can deceive. They.They shyly agree that some day they will kiss. They understand their friendship has been built on a deep, shared experience that will bond them for a long time.

I was filled with nostalgia by the references to the culture of 1972, the Tab and Oreos, the music, the peacoats and tie-dyed shirts. Novels today seem to be filled with specific references to the culture of the time.

Serendipity: the story resonated with my own experience growing up with a mom who was debilitated by psoriatic arthritis, severe psoriasis compounded and Sjogren's syndrome. Normal for Mom was waking up, taking her pain pills, returning to bed until the meds took effect. Her joints were frozen one by one until her hands were permanently curled. Doctors had her on medications without consulting each other and in 1968 she was hospitalized, taken off meds cold turkey to prevent further organ damage, and became so ill my family was worried she would die. So I know something with moms with illness.

The book is marketed for upper elementary students, but adult readers will enjoy it as well.

This was a pleasant surprise and I am grateful to the publisher for sending me this book.  I have been auto-approved for all Lake Union Publishing books and saw a number of titles I was interested in, including a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde who I have read and enjoyed.