Paul Jennings was one of my favourite authors when I was a kid, so it was wonderful to return to his writing with The Nest, his first book for older readers (it's aimed at the late teens). From page one I recognised his distinctive style, and it gave me a feeling of, "Oh, so there you are". Now I want to go dig up and reread my old Jennings collection, even though I'm waaay out of their target demographic.
But let's talk about The Nest. It tells the story of Robin, a troubled teen living in the Victorian Alps with his cruel father. His mother disappeared from his life when he was young, something that still profoundly affects him. He's plagued by worrying thoughts, and while he's trying to get a grip of them and deal with his dad, he's also navigating the tricky territory of first love (and first lust).
This book is a lot darker than most of Jennings' other work (hence the older audience), but it still bears his trademark humour, straightforward storytelling and, of course, an incredible twist. The snowy setting was unusual for an Australian story (definitely not the typical beach or outback environment), but the stormy weather added to the growing sense of turmoil in Robin's world. A writer himself, the plot is spliced with the stories Robin writes, which themselves reveal small hints of what's to come. I also enjoyed them because they reminded me even more of Jennings' own short stories (nostalgia points!).
I loved this book. Even without the nostalgia, it would be a great read. The story is simply told, but powerful. I read in an interview with Jennings that he wanted to write this story to let teens, who might be going through a similar experience to Robin, know that they're not alone. And he's done a brilliant job - I really connected with Robin and felt his pain. There were quite a few times that I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him that he wasn't alone, and that everything would be OK.
Talking Points (Spoiler Alert!)
- I loved the way everything was connected, especially the way Robin's stories were interwoven with the plot. The only one I didn't quite get the significance of was the champagne bottles - I saw the connection with Robin's images of champagne corks popping, but I was expecting that to play a more significant part in the end, and when it didn't, I wondered what the point was.
- The final lines were amazing, and really summed up the whole book for me: "And he must walk in the night for a while, for without the dark there is no day, nor star to see, nor tale to tell... to show the way."
- Jennings stated in an interview that Robin has OCD (exactly what his problem is is never mentioned in the book), but I didn't pick up on that at all. Maybe I just don't know enough about it, but I thought Robin was depressed, or perhaps even schizophrenic. But I guess that's a minor point, because either way, the portrayal of Robin's feelings of hopelessness and his inability to control his own thoughts was really powerful and effective.
Probably because I've recently seen him in I Am Number Four, Callan McAuliffe was Robin for me. He's got the right dorky/cute look:
Robin repeatedly describes his friend/crush, the compassionate "greenie" Charlie, as beautiful. For some reason Ashleigh Brewer, a.k.a. Kate Ramsay on Neighbours, kept popping into my head. I don't know why - I don't even watch the show. But she is very pretty:
Sophie Lowe really pulled off the creepy/selfish/temptress vibe in Beautiful Kate, so I thought she was the perfect fit for Verushka:
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
First published: 2009
Best deal: Book Depository
This post is part of Aussie Author Month, which supports the Indigenous Literacy Project.