Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Based on a story from Hans Christian Andersen, this book takes “The Nightingale” and turns it into magical realism. Little John’s family is in turmoil. His little sister died jumping out of a tree, his mother can’t deal with the loss and often forgets that her daughter died, and his father is struggling to make enough money to keep them from being evicted. So Little John has to help his father take down trees to make money. It is at Mr. King’s home that Little John first meets Gayle, a young foster child whose singing voice seems to heal people and who has built a nest high in one of the trees. Then Mr. King decides that he has to record Gayle’s voice and hires Little John to bring her to him within a week. Little John doesn’t want to, so Mr. King resorts to blackmail and money to get him to do it. This story explores responsibility, betrayal, and loss in a poignant and beautiful way.
Loftin’s writing is exquisite and simple. She has taken an old tale and breathed freshness and vibrancy into it. Her setting is tightly woven, just the scope of Little John’s own summer days. It makes the focus very close, intensifying the choices that Little John is forced to make. More than most books for tweens, this one truly asks a character to face an impossible decision and then shows what happens afterwards and how that decision has repercussions for many people.
Little John is a great male protagonist. He is pure boy, resentful of the situation his family is in but also bound to them by love and blood. At the same time, he is a gentle soul, worried about Gayle and the circumstances she is living in. The only character who stretches believability is Mr. King who reads like a stereotypical villain, but he is the only character without nuance.
Magical and beautiful, this is perfect for discussion in a classroom, this book begs to be talked about thanks to its complexity. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.