Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When the Nest Falls: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

"Now, don't push yourself, Hannah," Dad said, but Mom was already walking toward the water with her long, slow dancer steps and her dark, twisty dancer bun.

"Here I go," she said, dipping in before Dad could catch her and finish his lecture. She swam underwater all the way to the rope at the other side of the shallow area and then started doing laps.

"Bravo!" Dad yelled from shore.

"Bravo!" Rachel and I yelled, but Dad shushed us and said that Mom preferred not to draw attention to herself.

"But, Dad,"I said, " you're the one who--" But he was already sprinting toward Mom, just in case her leg decided to give her more of that new nasty business.

Rachel had her fake smile on, which means she's upset but won't admit it

Life has been good for eleven-year-old Naomi, called "Chirp" for her fascination with birds, and good for her family. Her thirteen-year-old sister Rachel still condescends to make up new dances with her, and her psychologist Dad is easy going and loving. But it is their beautiful and creative mother, Hannah, who is the center of the family, and when she receives a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, she withdraws and falls into a depression so deep that Dad has her hospitalized for psychiatric care. Even after electroshock treatments and a visit home, the trajectory is downhill, and finally Hannah turns to suicide in the nearby pond, their pond, where Chirp has watched for the ruby-throated loon and both girls had learned to swim.

I pull my pink rug into the corner. I shove my desk over to make a triangle with the wall with just enough space for me to crawl in. I get my pillow and red wool blanket and white quilt and Eggie, my yellow Therma-Weave off my bed. All of my Danskin shirts and pants, the purple ones and yellow ones and green ones. I drag everything in. My pillow goes in the middle. Then all of my clothes in a circle.

A nest should be well constructed. It should keep you warm even when there are strong gusts. It can't just fall apart.

With the loss of Hannah, the family seems to be falling apart. Chirp retreats to her nest whenever she can. Rachel fights with her father constantly, and then abruptly switches to siding with him and fighting with Chirp. Her heart-broken dad tries ineffectually to hold them together. And Chirp herself flounders, at home and at school, and only finds some release when she and Joey, a boy with abusive brothers and father who lives nearby, decide to run away to Boston with nothing more than a vague plan to ride the swan boats in the Public Gardens. Chirp pins her hopes upon finding the same boat with the same driver than she and her mom had ridden together the last summer, but when she asks if he remembers her mother, the driver's blank look just confirms the realization that her mother is really gone, disappearing from memory already.

But Chirp's flight shows her how much she needs what is left of her family, those with whom she shares her memories, in Esther Ehlich's Nest (Random House, 2014). Ehlich's narrative is lyrical and full of details and symbols which reinforce the story of loss, death, grief, and family strength, and Chirp is a remarkable voice, honest and totally stricken with the sudden loss of her family's anchor.

Although the story is told in Chirp's voice, the characters are so well drawn that each reveals his or her own story clearly. This is a novel that touches on family relationships in depth--a remarkably drawn story made more vivid, like To Kill a Mockingbird, as seen through the eyes of a young girl. "A stunning debut, with lyrical prose and superbly developed characters. . . . Readers will savor Nest and reflect on it long after its conclusion," says School Library Journal's starred review. And Horn Book adds , "Chirp’s first-person voice is believable; her poignant earnestness is truly heartrending. Ehrlich writes beautifully, constructing scenes with grace and layers of telling detail and insight."

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