Delacorte, 2013 306 pgs Grades 6-9
13-year-old Jack Baker is still reeling from the death of his mother. His Navy officer father returns home from WWII and places Jack in a military school in Maine. Here Jack struggles with loneliness and acceptance. He reluctantly makes friends with Early Auden, a brilliant yet strange boy with undiagnosed Aspergers, who is struggling with demons of his own. After being disappointed with his father, Jack joins Early on a quest through the Maine wilderness to seek a huge black bear. On the way the boys meet some truly memorable characters. have dangerous adventures and Jack discovers the real motivation for Early's quest. The narrative of the book alternates with Early's story of pi, a myth featuring an anthropomorphed version of the unending number. Pi's story runs parallel to that of the boys and both reach a satisfying conclusion by the end.
Navigating Early is the sophomore offering by 2011 Newbery winner, Clare Vanderpool. As with Moon Over Manifest, it is beautifully written, set in 1900's America, deals with similar themes such as loss and change, and has elements of surprise in the tightly woven plot. Also, as with Moon Over Manifest, it has two alternating stories, a lot of characters to keep straight and complexities that would go over the heads of average young readers. Personally, I enjoyed Navigating Early and thought it was a brilliant piece of fiction. That said, I don't know any young people that I would recommend it to. I have a wonderful group of 5th and 6th grade kids who are smart as whips in my Bookworm Club and I don't think they would bother to get through this book. I thought that this book would be a Newbery contender, but it was actually just award a Printz honor, putting it in the teen category. I think the characters are too young for teens and the plot requiring too much patience for young kids, so I'm not entirely sure of the audience. I'm sure there are kids out there who will appreciate Navigating Early. I hope they find it at the end of my fiction section earnestly hanging out with Moon Over Manifest, waiting to be asked to dance.