Chirp begins fifth grade looking forward to another year of beloved family traditions: dancing with her mother, bird-watching hikes, and impromptu performances with her older sister Rachel. But something is different in the Orenstein house. Rachel hushes Chirp when she asks questions or wants to show her mother some new dance steps. Chirp can’t understand how these things could make her mother sad like Rachel says.
Then comes her mother’s devastating diagnosis. There will be no more dancing. As her mother’s health deteriorates, Chirp’s family unravels. Even her father’s ever-positive, talk-about-it outlook can make this okay. Nothing will be okay again.
Chirp struggles to understand the new roles her family members adopt in the crisis and to interpret the behavior of the temperamental boy who lives in her neighborhood. This is a story about grief, about the way life doesn’t stay the same, but morphs into something new when we least expect it.
Each wonderful character brings a story of his or her own, and though the reader is limited to Chirp’s version of events, it’s easy to imagine the tales that fill the space between each line. As a young bird-watcher, Chirp often relates her experiences and emotions through the birds around her. Nest is filled with a rich emotional landscape, one that transcends words, just as its narrator’s emotions would lie beyond the capacity of an eleven year-old child to explain. It’s brilliantly done. Truly a great story.
A couple very oblique, brief references to sex. (A girl worries that someone might think she’s a “lezzie;” school children ask their teacher if she’s going to teach them sex education.)
Chirp’s family celebrates her Jewish heritage and does not observe Christian holidays. Sometimes other kids make fun of her family for this. One girl comments to Chirp that even if her family doesn’t ask Jesus into their hearts, surely God will still let them into heaven.
A boy bears a bruise on his face following an unexplained home situation.
Chirp goes with her sister to a party at which the adults smoke marijuana. She is frightened and goes home.