Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

It's shortly after WWII, and Jack Baker finds himself in a boys' boarding school in Main, far away from his home in Kansas.  There he meets Early Auden, a strange boy with a fascination with the number pi.  During school vacation, Jack and Early are the only ones left at school, and they head out onto the Appalachian Trail on a quest.

This reminded me a bit of Francesca Lia Block's Love in the Time of Global Warming.  Not in writing style, of course.  But in both books we have a story, in LITTOFW it was The Odyssey, in Navigating Early it was the story of Pi, and the characters in the book go off on a journey that perfectly mirrors the story they read/heard/told.  I enjoyed Navigating Early much more.

It's an odd little book, one I think that's probably going to have more appeal to adults than middle grade kids, but I could be wrong about that.  It does have some boy appeal in two guys going off on an adventure.

Jack is torn up about the loss of his mother, although he tries not to show it.  He hardly knows his navy father, recently returned from the war, and his father is not the best at comfort and talking.  Jack feels lost and adrift, and the Main boarding school isn't helping to anchor him.

Although Jack is casual friends with the other boys, Early is the only one who really talks to him.  Early is odd.  He's probably has Autism in some form.  That's just my guess, it's not actually said in the book, that wouldn't have been appropriate for the time period.  Early has a number of characteristics that would fit though.  His father is recently dead, and he's living in the school basement, hardly ever going to class, and no one seems to care enough to do anything about it.  Early is adrift too, but in a different way.  What grounds him is the number pi.  In the never-ending numbers, Early can read a story, about a boy called Pi that loses his way, but finds his way home.

Early's brother has died in the war.  But Early is convinced his brother isn't dead, and that he's tied up in the story of Pie.  If only the story can have an ending, if Pi can find his way home, Early's brother will be able to as well.

Jack goes along with Early, mostly to not be left behind and alone.  Their journey mirrors Pi's journey, all the twists and turns, the meeting of strange characters and escaping danger.  Early is unflaggingly determined, Jack is skeptical.  The journey allows both boys to anchor themselves, although perhaps in unexpected ways.

I liked both the characters of Jack and Early.  They were well developed and unique and their actions were always believable.  The story surprised me and kept me interested.  Although there is action and adventure and even pirates, for heaven's sake, it's still overall a very quiet, thoughtful sort of book.

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