Title: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2013
After his mother dies suddenly, Jack Baker is sent to a boy's boarding school in Maine, far from his home in Kansas, his distant father who has just returned from the warfront, and all of his memories of life before. He doesn't feel at home at Morton Hill Academy and tries to fit in with mixed results until he meets Early Auden, "that strangest of boys." It becomes clear that Early's brain works differently than most people's, and this eventually leads both boys on an adventure in the Maine wilderness, up the Appalachian trail in search of something. Whether it's the end of the story of the number pi, the great Appalachian black bear, or something a little less attainable, Jack and Early go and seek it out.
I enjoyed this 2014 Printz Honor title much more than I thought I would. It is a grand adventure, with pretty real danger, a fully human cast of characters (with perhaps the exception of the bear and dear old Bucky the frog), and grief in many forms. I think every character deals with some sort of grief, and each processes it in a different way.
I'm not sure I completely liked the parallel of Early's story of Pi, who is a character with his own tale, and Early and Jack's story. There was just a bit too much suspension of disbelief that these two stories so closely mirrored each other, mostly with the Ancient One part. It just felt off to me. But it's a small quibble, because in the end everything comes together beautifully, with some nice twists and turns in the journey, much like the Appalachian Trail itself.
Take a look at this book if you like a tale within a tale, reading about the Maine wilderness, mystery, quests, or a good old-fashioned adventure story.
Disclaimer: I received a free galley of this book from the publisher... a year ago. Sorry it took so long!