Nest by Esther Erlich

Nest is a deeply moving, deeply serious middle grade novel by author Esther Erlich about a good girl forced to deal with tragically bad news.

Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein tells her story in a strong and honest voice. The setting is Cape Cod in 1972. Chirp, newly 12, is a birder and a little sister to an older, bossier, but still loving bigger sister. Her father is a psychiatrist, her mother a dancer. In the first few chapters, the family tiptoes around the mystery of her mother’s leg, which “isn’t working quite right.” Soon, her mom is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the family bears the news together. Yet it becomes obvious that her mother can’t handle dealing with the disease—she becomes depressed.

She becomes so deeply depressed, in fact, that she’s sent to an institution—nicknamed by the two girls something less kind in the book. Chirp and her sister wrestle with the fact that her mother is so different, so sad, so far from them. Therefore, the girls are thrilled when she comes home. Their mother, whose face was recently so vacant, seems normal and happy and ready to tackle anything. Then, suddenly, it’s clear that she’s far from normal and happy—she commits suicide by purposefully drowning in a nearby lake.

Needless to say, Chirp has a difficult time accepting her mom’s death, and she drifts closer to a boy who is, in his own way, damaged and imperfect. In their friendship (which is mostly, but not all, good), Chirp escapes the sadness in her house. They run away together, but the trip turns out proving to Chirp that she is dearly loved. This is obvious when compared to her friend’s loveless, unkind, uncaring family—this aspect of the book is another heart-wrenching thing to read about.

As a reader, up to the game-changing point where the mother’s depression pushes her to end her life, I was glad to have an imperfect mother in a novel. Too often a mother is either a superwoman character with endless supply of patience and good cheer, or she is evil, mean, or completely absent. Having a mother who is sad seemed an intriguing and, sadly, realistic change. Yet my heart broke while reading how her daughters were forced to confront and cope with her suicide.

But, like it or not, life has a tendency to deal these tough, unfair situations. Bad things happen to good people—this is quite obvious in this heavy middle grade novel. The age range for this book is officially 10-12-years old, and I think that’s mostly appropriate, though children would benefit from a “guide” of some sort while reading this novel. I would prefer my daughter read it in class so that the characters, events and the positive lessons could be discussed and drawn out in detail. Or, better yet, we can read Nest together in the safe nest of my daughter’s room, where other children’s realities can be witnessed and discussed, and hopefully never felt first-hand.

Publisher: Random House Kids


Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million!

MSRP: approximately $12

Ages: 10-12 years

Readability: 5

Illustrations: n/a

Kept My Children’s Interest: 3

Appealed to Advertised Age: 4

I Would Purchase for My Child: No

I Would Purchase as a Gift: Yes

Overall Rating: 4

All ratings on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high).

Meet the Reviewer!

Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom and wife living in Great Falls, VA. In addition to being a reader to her three small children, Kate is a writer, distance runner, Crossfitter and blogger of raising kids with books at

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