The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
Steve’s new baby brother isn’t healthy, so his parents keep having to meet with doctors and specialists to see if they can help. Steve struggles with worries much of the time and now it is getting worse. He worries about the baby, about his parents, about his little sister, about the odd man who drives the knife sharpening cart, and about the wasps. Steve doesn’t like wasps and when he is stung out in the yard one day, he discovers that he is allergic to them too. So Steve has to carry an Epi-pen to keep safe. As the summer continues, Steve begins to have weird dreams. It seems that the queen of the wasp nest outside under the eaves is communicating with him. And she is steadily explaining something horrible and tantalizing, promising that she can help his little brother by fixing him. But it takes Steve saying “yes” and helping them get the new baby in the house. As the pressure mounts, Steve is told by his doctor that dreams are only in his head and not reality. But what happens when your dreams actually start coming true?
Oppel has written a spectacular horror book, combining a fear of bees and wasps with the myths of changelings. The way that Oppel incorporates the science of reason and has adults dismissing Steve’s dreams and concerns makes for a horror book that uses parents and polite adult sensibility as the way the main character is isolated. This benign busyness of the parents though they care deeply will be something that most modern children will recognize. It’s far more effective than having no parents at all.
The queen wasp in the story is a brilliant villain, attractive and kind. She offers Steve attention when he is getting none, plenty of praise, and the sweetness of power in a situation where he has no control. It is an irresistible mix and a trap that Steve realizes far too late. Readers too will tell themselves that this is all in Steve’s head, just pretend, only a dream. But Oppel does not let that happen, taking it all the way through to its horrific conclusion.
Frightening, magical and impossible to stop reading, this horror novel for older elementary children is one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.