Rummanah Aasi
 Navigating Early is one of those special middle grade reads that can be appreciated by young readers and adults for its complex narrative and excellent character development. After reading this book I was not surprised by how many starred review and accolades it has received. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it landed on my Top 14 reads from last year.

Description: When Jack Baker's father sends him from his home in Kansas to attend a boys' boarding school in Maine, Jack doesn't know what to expect. Certainly not Early Auden, the strangest of boys. Early keeps to himself, reads the number pi as a story, and refuses to accept truths others take for granted. Jack, feeling lonely and out of place, connects with Early, and the two become friends.
   During a break from school, the boys set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for a great black bear. As Jack and Early travel deeper into the mountains, they meet peculiar and dangerous characters, and they make some shocking discoveries. But their adventure is only just beginning. Will Jack's and Early's friendship last the journey? Can the boys make it home alive?

Review: Navigating Early is a story about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness, and the power of stories. On its surface, it is a tale of two outcast boys from a boarding school developing a friendship and overcoming loss; however, if you dig deeper you will realize that the book in fact is composed of three stories that beautifully weave together by the last page.
  Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother's death at the end of World War II. He mourns and feels guilty for not taking care of his mother. He also resents his Navy father who appears to him like a stranger and in Jack's eyes kicked Jack out of the only home that he has known. Jack 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. It takes some time for Jack to accept Early as he is, but there is a powerful scene that shows how Jack and Early's solidified their friendship. 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. While on their journey, Early tells an evolving saga of Pi  and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the Pi's stories.
 To be honest, I was not very interested in Navigating Early at first. I wasn't sure where the story was going when it started to include pirates and Pi's crazy adventures, but once I figured out the allegorical connection to Pi's story with that of Jack and Early's everything clicked for me. Jack and Early may appear to be very different from one another because of their abilities, but they are very much alike. Both are trying to accept the loss of their loved ones and are trying in their own ways to understand their realities. Jack prefers to internalize and analyze his thoughts. His voice does seem a lot older than a thirteen year old. Similarly, Early makes sense of his situation by creating a story using what he knows best: numbers.
 Vanderpool ties all these details along with 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 of Pi's adventures require a bit of suspended disbelief and there are some coincidences that may seem a bit too convenient in the story. Despite these minor flaws, Vanderpool has created a stunning novel with a very eloquent and moving ending. Navigating Early requires patience, thought, and concentration but it is well worth the effort. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
3 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Good to know that this one takes a little time to settle into Rummanah, I'm good with books like that as long as I know what to expect going in, and that if I stick with the story it will all be worth it:) Glad this was such a success for you!

  2. I always like when books like this pay off. It definitely sounds worth the read. I will add it to my list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I know it took some time to get settled into this one so I'm glad that your decision to stick with it turned out to be worth it, Rummanah. It's so annoying when you stick with a story and have it turn out to be a crap read.

    Oh, and in response to your question about Red Queen, it's the first book of a series.

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