Reviews for Navigating Early
Kirkus Starred Review
"Returning to themes she explored so affectingly in Moon Over Manifest (2011), Newbery Medalist Vanderpool delivers another winning picaresque about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness—and the power of stories. Thirteen-year-old Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother’s death at the end of World War II. He quickly befriends Early Auden, a savant whose extraordinary facility with numbers allows him to “read” a story about “Pi” from the infinite series of digits that follow 3.14. Jack accompanies Early in one of the school crew team’s rowing boats on what Jack believes is his friend’s fruitless quest to find a great bear allegedly roaming the wilderness—and Early’s brother, a legendary figure reportedly killed in battle. En route, Early spins out Pi’s evolving saga, and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the stories. Vanderpool ties all these details, characters, and Jack’s growing maturity and self-awareness together masterfully and poignantly, though humor and excitement leaven the weighty issues the author and Jack frequently pose. Some exploits may strain credulity; Jack’s self-awareness often seems beyond his years, and there are coincidences that may seem too convenient. It’s all of a piece with Vanderpool’s craftsmanship. Her tapestry is woven and finished off seamlessly. The ending is very moving, and there’s a lovely, last-page surprise that Jack doesn’t know but that readers will have been tipped off about.
Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“You have to look for the things that connect us all. Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide,” Jack’s mother told him before she died. Her words will come to have special meaning for readers spellbound by this atmospheric novel set at the end of WWII from Newbery Medalist Vanderpool (Moon over Manifest). After his mother is buried, 13-year-old Jack—a clear-eyed narrator with a great sense of humor, despite his recent heartbreak—is sent to a Maine boarding school, where he meets an eccentric student named Early Auden, who might today be labeled autistic. Early is obsessed with the number pi and believes that Pi is a boy on an epic journey, and in danger. Jack agrees to accompany Early on his quest to rescue Pi, and as the boys head into the wilderness, their adventures have an eerie resemblance to Early’s stories about Pi, as do Jack and Early’s own sad histories. This multilayered, intricately plotted story has a kaleidoscopic effect, blurring the lines between reality and imagination, coincidence and fate."
Booklist Starred Review
"When Jack Baker’s mother dies, his father deposits him in the Morton Hill Academy for Boys in Maine, far from the only home he has ever known—Kansas. Alone and lonely, Jack befriends Early Auden, a strange, legendary boy who understands all manner of unknowable things, from the necessity of listening to Billie Holiday on rainy days to the secrets embedded in patterns of jelly beans. Most important, Early believes the unwinding digits in the calculation of pi hold a connection to his revered older brother, lost in the war. Jack and Early set out on a mysterious journey, following Pi’s story, tracking a great black bear along the Appalachian Trail, and searching for reconciliation neither knows he seeks. Along the way, they encounter a collection of characters, all of them wound up in Early’s eerily prescient Pi yarn. Newbery Medal–winning author Vanderpool’s sharp, honest narrative, sparkling with the stars of the night sky, pieces together an elaborate, layered plot with precision, weaving multiple threads into a careful, tidy conclusion perfectly suited for those, like Jack and Early, who want to believe."
School Library Journal Starred Review
"When Jack’s mother passes away, his military father returns home to pack him up and ship him off to boarding school in Maine. Wading through the emotional trauma of grief and trying to adjust to his new surroundings, Jack feels that he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. It is not until he befriends the school’s resident outsider that he finds someone who might be able to help him navigate the troubled waters of his future. Early’s older brother, Fisher, is a school legend, and the boy refuses to believe that he perished in the war. He sees numbers as having colors and narratives and believes that the story of Pi is also the story that will lead his brother home. Early sets off on an epic quest to find the Great Bear that has been ravaging the countryside as he believes it will lead him to Fisher. When Jack teams up with Early to find a bear, a brother, and an unending number, both boys finally find their way back home. Set just after World War II, this novel, like Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010), once again meticulously blends an intricately plotted and layered story line with a fully realized historical backdrop. Interesting characters meander through the boys’ adventure, fitting themselves into the pieces of their story as it begins to weave together. Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this satisfying tale."
The Washington Post
"Early Auden is the “strangest of boys,” a savant who sweeps 13-year-old Jack Baker onto the Kennebec River and into an adventure rife with “pirates, a volcano, a great white whale, a hundred-year-old woman, a lost hero, a hidden cave, a great Appalachian bear, and a timber rattlesnake.” For Early, the number pi tells an ongoing story that somehow relates to the fate of his older brother, Fisher, a soldier reportedly killed in World War II. Pi’s story is interspersed with Jack’s first-person narrative and guides Early, for whom numbers have “color and landscape, texture and voice,” on his quest for his brother. Initially, Jack, who is reeling from the sudden death of his mother, just goes along with his odd friend. But the wilderness journey becomes a way through Jack’s guilt and grief, too, as he begins to recall small things — his mom’s special teacup and funny sayings, his father’s ring — and feel more connected with the world. Clare Vanderpool deftly rows this complex, inventive novel — her most recent since her Newbery-winning “Moon Over Manifest” — to a tender, surprising and wholly satisfying ending. The richly detailed Maine setting allows the reader to experience moss-slick rocks, murmuring water and bear prints as big as pie pans."