The nest – what image does that bring to mind? A place of safety and comfort, a refuge? Or the home to countless creeping enemies? Kenneth Oppel’s unsettling contemporary fairy tale examines both concepts. Steve is a worrier and when his baby brother is born his anxiety levels soar: there’s lots wrong with the baby, and it’s a terrible time for the family especially his parents who are often away with the baby at the hospital. Comfort comes for Steve in his dreams where he meets shining, winged creatures. ‘We’re here to help,’ says their leader, ‘We come when there’s grief.’ Steve decides they must be angels and believes the queen when she says they can fix his baby brother. Meanwhile, his little sister is receiving messages and warnings from the mysterious and sinister-seeming Mr Nobody on a toy phone. By the time he learns that these creatures don’t plan to cure his little brother but to replace him with their own perfect baby, Steve knows exactly what they are.
Exploring some of the fears and anxieties familiar to all of us, this is an extraordinarily dark and creepy story. The tension is there from the very first page and Steve’s eventual physical contest with the wasps – for that’s the form Oppel chooses for these insidious enemies – comes almost as a relief, even though his life is at risk. The book is illustrated throughout by Jon Klassen, people and objects half glimpsed through shadow and darkness – a perfect match with the story and the book is a beautiful object.
Read our Q&A interview with Kenneth Oppel.