By Clare Vanderpool
Published 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Jack finds himself transplanted to a boy's boarding school in Maine after the death of his mother. There, he meets Early Auden, a strange boy who begins to tell him the story of pi. Not just the story of the number, though - the story that the number tells. It's tied in to Early's own story and will lead Jack and Early on an unexpected quest through the Maine woods, one that puts them in great peril, but may heal them as well.
Books for middle-grade readers don't generally get a ton of buzz - usually, you only hear about a book if it's a big name author or series (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Rick Riordan, etc.). The only other time a book gets significant buzz is if it's being talked about as a potential award-winner. Navigating Early is this second kind of book - Vanderpool won a Newbery Medal for her debut novel, Moon Over Manifest. Naturally, her follow-up is going to get a lot of attention. I enjoyed Vanderpool's debut more than I expected to and definitely wanted to see what she'd come up with next. Additionally, as I may have mentioned before, I'm originally from the great state of Maine, so any book that uses our beautiful state as a setting catches my attention. I eagerly requested an e-galley of the title and was thrilled to be approved. So, did my early feelings of excitement pan out?
I'm not entirely sure. This was a really strange read for me. Vanderpool truly has a gift for storytelling - I love the easy way she writes. She brings characters vividly to life, seemingly without much effort. She has a knack for evoking a time and place so that it feels the most natural thing to just slip right into the story. I think Vanderpool does a wonderful job depicting my home state - I felt so homesick while reading her beautiful descriptions of the natural wonders of Maine. I fell completely in love with Jack and Early and all the characters they meet along their journey. As a matter of fact, everything about this book's plot, characters, and setting just felt so right. My only qualm is with the story of Pi - I had a hard time with that part of the story. It's weird - when Early first started telling the story of Pi, I literally didn't get it. I thought he was crazy. The more the book went on, the more it became clear that Early was not crazy, just different, and the story of Pi was, at least in part, his way of coping with the hardships of his life. And, as the book continued to progress, I thought Vanderpool did a fantastic job of making the connections between Pi's journey and Jack and Early's journey - I loved seeing the parallels and differences between the two. Ultimately, though, the story of Pi feels like the weakest aspect of the novel for me and I'm left feeling just a bit dissatisfied with it.
On the whole, I think this is a fantastic book, proving that Vanderpool is not just a one-book wonder. I think kids who delve into this book will certainly be rewarded and I recommend it. It was just a little short of perfect for me.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.