Book Review : Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
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. (Courtesy of goodread.com)
Adult Point of View
Clare Vanderpool is absolutely one of my favorite new authors. Both Moon Over Manifest and Navigating Early have beautiful writing, interesting characters and require thinking. The truly remarkable thing about these two novels is that they do not feel similar, each is unique to itself. I find it hard to imagine that very many young adults will fall in love with these novels, but adults will adore them.
There were so many things I loved about this novel, first the imagery and language is beautiful.
“My mother was like sand. The kind that warms you on a beach when you come shivering out of the cold water. The kind that clings to your body, leaving its impression on your skin to remind you where you’ve been and where you’ve come from. The kind you keep finding in your shoes and your pockets long after you’ve left the beach.” (p. 11)
Another thing I love about this novel is the observations and connections Jackie makes between people and places. He realized that the boat house at Morton Hill Academy is sacred, that is enshrined by the people as a temple. Back home in Kansas his communities’ shrine was the baseball diamond.
“The folks from town would fill the bleachers and pray for victory. As players, we were well versed in the scripture of baseball lore and knew all the patron saints: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and Joe DiMaggio.” (p. 45)
Jackie later observes that the lumberjack has enshrined a bookshelf in his home. His observation makes me wonder what does my home town enshrine?
I love the sayings that Jackie remembers from his mother and that he and his dad learn that the common language they speak are the words from this woman that they both loved. “Get out of the rain before it washes all the dry off.” (p. 60)
Early Auden is a terrific character. He is an outcast and an oddball, and as described by Jackie as the strangest of boys. Early has the ability to take the same set of information as everybody else has and leap to a new conclusion, and he is often correct. His view of the world is unique to himself and he has learned methods to help him cope with the inconsistencies of life. Today we would diagnose Early has having autism, everything about him is perfect, even the tone of his voice and his love of order.
Early sees numbers as a story with shapes, textures and feelings. Pi is not simply a mathematical equation it is the life quest of boy in search of earning his name. The story sequences of Pi are epic (think of something like the Odyssey) and are parallel, in a way, to Early and Jackie’s adventure. In short Pi is lost, but there are many others in the novel who are also lost. Jackie, Early, Fisher, Captain John Baker Jr., Martin Johannsen, Mrs. Johannsen, MacScott, the Haggard and Homely Wench, well you get the idea that essentially every character mentioned is lost at some point and in some way. I believe that the theme of being lost is such a poignant theme because it is universal that each person has to figure out who they are and what they stand for, in other words, we are all lost until we discover our identity. I wonder if even more people feel lost today than after WWII because of current issues like MMORPG’s (multiplayer online role playing games), other fake online personas, war, drugs, identity theft, facebook friends, sexting and depersonalization through technology.
I will get out a few very nit-picky complaints in Navigating Early. I would have liked to see the pacing in the beginning of the book to lead me slowly into learning that Jackie’s mother had died, but I can understand Vanderpool’s choice in this because there is so much that is revealed more slowly surrounding Early. I am not sure how I felt about the author using some trite expressions, perhaps it is indicative of the time after WWII. The last observation is that everything is tied up very neatly and succinctly at the end. I could argue that this was to reinforce Jackie’s mother’s idea that everything connects.
Teen Point of View
I really liked Early’s character. I liked how whimsical he was. I didn’t expect that Fisher would be Early’s brother, and that was a good twist. I also liked the quotes from Jackie’s mother, but I did not feel like Jackie really grew as a character. It seemed like Early was mostly in the spotlight.
The end seemed anti-climatic, it was like they just went home and Jackie got his dad and everything was okay. I think adults and mature teens will mostly like this book.
– the teen