A nest is a haven—a place of safety and repose. But for 11-year-old Naomi Orenstein, her safe haven is turned upside down after mounting family tragedy.
Naomi, known as “Chirp” for her ornithological interests, lives with her older sister, psychiatrist father and dancer mother in 1970s Cape Cod. But after being diagnosed with MS, Chirp's mother sinks into depression that brings about more tragedy.
This could be more than most tweens can absorb or understand, but Chirp is strong, to a point. Her love of nature comforts her, and Joey, the boy down the street, takes her on adventures designed to make her forget the stress of losing a parent—and help Joey forget the stress of living with an abusive one.
Ultimately, it boils down to what Chirp believes, “You can’t make grown-ups not do what they’re going to do.” So the two set out to make sense of their lives by escaping their troubles.
In this debut novel by Esther Ehrlich, Chirp’s voice rings true, both in her dealings at school and with her family in disarray. It is a sad story but overwhelmingly powerful in the way families and their trajectories are presented—and in showing how family members react in various ways.
Chirp’s nest will never be the same, but when she returns from her adventures with Joey, she realizes that no matter what has happened, she is home.
Sharon Verbeten is a freelance writer and children’s librarian in De Pere, Wisconsin.