Clare Vanderpool, Author
Delacourte Press, MG Fiction, 2013
Suitable for Ages: 10-14 (5-8 grades)
Themes: Adventure, Journey, Appalachian Trail, Boarding Schools, Eccentricity, Loss
Synopsis: When Jack Baker’s mother dies, his father, a WW II Navy captain, boxes up their lives in Kansas and moves them to Maine. Jack is enrolled in the Morton Hill Academy and his father returns to his military job. Jack struggles with making friends until he meets Early Auden, a strange but curious boy. Jack and Early share two things in common — the loss of loved ones and distant fathers. Early is a gifted mathematical genius and is obsessed with the Pi =3.14. Early sees numbers in colors, images and creates a spellbinding story about Pi. Early is certain that Pi is lost and the boys embark upon the journey of their life to find Pi on the Appalachian Trail. Jack knows the constellations and navigates their trip as they encounter sea, pirates, timber rattle snakes, an old woman, lost souls, buried secrets, deep forests, caves and catacombs, and a Big Black bear. Early’s gift of taking information and seeing what others miss keep the boys one-step ahead of danger. The ending is unexpected but more than satisfying.
Why I like this book: This is one of the most complex books I’ve reviewed for middle graders. Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest) has written a very emotional and compelling novel that tugs at her reader’s heartstrings and has them glued to their seats. It is a story playing out within a story, and sometimes the lines of reality become blurred for both the boys when their hearts are involved. This is a story about two boys searching for someone who is lost while trying to find themselves along the way. Early would probably be diagnosed on the autism spectrum and a savant today, but the author doesn’t want to label him — so I haven’t labeled him in my tags. Navigating Early is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for middle graders and young adults.
Resources: You may want to visit Clare Vanderpool at her website where readers can learn more about Navigating Early. Teacher resources are also available. Clare Vanderpool won the Newberry Award for her novel Moon Over Manifest.