After the passing of his mother, thirteen year old Jack Baker relocates to Morton Hill Academy in Cape Felty, Maine. His father decides to move him closer to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where he is stationed in the Navy. Jack finds himself trying to adjust to a new life ahead at the boarding school while trying to come to terms with his mother's sudden death. Soon after his arrival, he notices an unusual boy named Early Auden. Jack learns things about Early that he finds intriguing such as; he sometimes shows up for class and then disappears, has his own workshop in the school's custodial room and clearly has a knack for numbers. To Early, the number pi is an adventurous story that he sees in shapes, color and texture. He can perform amazing calculations in his head and calms himself by sorting jellybeans by number and color when he becomes upset. Early's Pi stories are very real to him and he feels a need to help save him after a professor announces that the number eventually comes to an end. When the boys find themselves alone at school during fall break, they decide to take a trip down the Kennebec River in search of the mythical Great Appalachian Bear and help Pi return from the dangers of being lost. Along the way, they meet several characters who have a strange similarity to Early's Pi stories that help create an adventuresome journey for the two themselves. Most importantly though on their quest, the boys learn that sometimes what you end up finding is not necessarily what you've set out looking for.
This story was filled with adventure, imagination and so beautifully written that it definitely pulls in the reader. Even though Early's story of Pi is fictional, it is so believable that it is a story within a story itself. There is depth to the characters and tale that makes this not just a typical adventure story either. It is more of a read between the lines story and its reader will find true friendship, self discovery, meaning of hope and character development. I imagined Early, that despite his differences, a character truly exceptional and gifted telling that magical tale from what he sees in his mind from a set of numbers. I envisioned Jack feeling lost and unsure of his place in a complicated world searching for answers to his own questions. It had a detailed 1945 setting including the woodlands of Maine that had me traveling easily through that era. The journey turns to many dangers along the way when they encounter a band of thieves, the thought of what is behind the giant bear prints, and making it back to the academy alive just to name a few. They also meet other characters that offer help and hope and continue on their epic journey to save Pi, even though Jack questions what is reality or insanity as their adventure seems to run parallel to Early's Pi story. It eventually sorts out and explains many things for each boy in more ways than one. Jack and his father both had good character development. I always like books where not only children are shown to grow, but adults do as well. It had some drawn out parts but just as many thrilling and exciting ones to keep you page turning. There are also great new vocabulary words and descriptive word choices that kids will find. This is a book for thinkers and good choice for either boys or girls. At the end of the book, the author also discusses the concept of Early's character and the number pi in her author's note. I usually read a book during summer vacation to my kids. I know this will be a great pick and look forward to sharing this one with them in the upcoming months. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10-13.~
Title: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Pub. Date: January 2013, Delacorte Press
Genre: adventure, middle grade
Hardover, 306 pgs.