Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Summary from Goodreads:

At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.

Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.

But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives

It is evident in several blog posts of mine, of how much I love this particular middle grade book called Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. And if you have a favorite anything, sometimes you get this notion that nothing can ever come close to it. But of course, that isn't a hard and fast rule, it is just after all, a notion. and I found my notion breaker in Navigating Early.   

Navigating early deals some heavy themes like loss, grief, death, and loneliness, in a somewhat unstable time of WWII aftermath. The power of this book lies in how the loss, grief and loneliness is conveyed, and how despite such dark and heavy themes, the reader still comes away with so much hope and positivity. Perhaps it's the earnestness, innocence, and naiveness that the voices of Jack and Early lent to the whole story. And as much as these boys spoke with a language that is simple, they tell you how they feel and what they want, still it all came out insightful, with emotions that rings as true and as clear as a cloudless night sky.         

Another is that the narrative is arranged in away that there's the Jack and Early narratives, side by side with the story of Pi. You see, Early has a high functioning form of autism, and he sees the number Pi as a story about a boy named Pi on his way to earn his name as a navigator by exploring the world. So for Early, 3.14 is not merely a series of numbers but of colors, textures, and sights and sounds. And the events in Pi's legend mirrors the events on Jack's  and Early's self-appointed quest. Pi meets a band of Pirates, so do Jack and Early but with a slight variation. Pi finds himself running away from an erupting volcano, so do Jack and Early, albeit it was a different sort of volcano. It's like a parallel universe of sorts, dream-like even, created by Early's mind willing the legend to life. It turned out to be one hell of a grand, imaginative, adventure. An adventure that taught the boys to find their bearings and navigate life's losses and heartaches.    

Navigating Early is a beautiful story. It's about friendship and family and love and grief. It's just a jumble of feels and fun, a story that doesn't fall short of action and humor and heart. 

Special Thanks to Louize (The Page Walker) who pointed me to the direction of The Appalachian Trail and thus I was able to stumble upon Jack and Early. :D


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Louize! This will undoubtedly be among my best reads this year. :D

  2. Hi, Tin! One of my favorite reads a couple of years ago was by Claire Vanderpool. It's her Newbery-winning work—Moon Over Manifest. I really, really love that book. I saw this book in a bookstore once but I didn't get it. When I get back the next day to finally buy it, it was gone! Horrors! I'm still on the lookout for it.

    If you like middle grade books with more or less the same theme and writing style, I think you'll like Gary D. Schmidt's books. I always recommend The Wednesday Wars, and, so far, everybody seems to like it!

    1. Hi Peter! Lol! I hope a copy will turn up soon. It's a lovely read. I think you'll enjoy it. I am going to add Moon Over Manifest and The Wednesday Wars on my list right now. And I do have a copy of Lizzie Bright and Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.Have you read that one? :)


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