Thursday, December 26, 2013
NAVIGATING EARLY is the story of Jack Baker, born and raised in Kansas. When his mother dies unexpectedly, Jack's Navy officer father transplants him to a boarding school in Maine, where Jack meets Early Auden. Early is a little eccentric- he lives in a janitor's closet close to the gym, attends class when he wants to, sees the number pi as one long string of colors and stories, collects articles about black bear sightings, sorts and resorts a bottle of jelly beans when he's upset, and listens to certain music on certain days (Billie Holiday is for rainy days). The story is set in 1945, and true to that time period, Vanderpol doesn't use the word autistic, but that's definitely a word that comes to mind as I come to know Early.
Jack and Early somehow become friends. Through a series of miscommunication, they are left at the school over a week's vacation, and Early convinces Jack to set out looking for black bears along the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, they encounter any number of unusual characters, who have previously shown up in Early's "Pi" stories, which are inserted periodically throughout the book. At this point, I could not help but think of Maniac Magee…
I loved NAVIGATING EARLY. I loved Jack and Early's journey. I loved their friendship, and Jack's compassion, and his ability to understand Early. I definitely think it's one that could help kids talk about and understand differences, and grow their hearts a little. I loved Jack and Early's attempts to deal with the grief and losses in their own lives, think this would also speak powerfully to a lot of kids. And like MOON OVER MANIFEST, I think Vanderpol is an incredible writer, it's one of those books you finish, and want to go right back and read again, just to see how she put it together.
NAVIGATING EARLY was one of the highlights of my reading year! Thank you, Clare Vanderpol!