Reviews for Navigating Early

Booklist Reviews 2012 December #2
*Starred Review* When Jack Baker's mother dies, his father deposits him in the Morton Hill Academy for Boys in Maine, far from the only home he has ever known--Kansas. Alone and lonely, Jack befriends Early Auden, a strange, legendary boy who understands all manner of unknowable things, from the necessity of listening to Billie Holiday on rainy days to the secrets embedded in patterns of jelly beans. Most important, Early believes the unwinding digits in the calculation of pi hold a connection to his revered older brother, lost in the war. Jack and Early set out on a mysterious journey, following Pi's story, tracking a great black bear along the Appalachian Trail, and searching for reconciliation neither knows he seeks. Along the way, they encounter a collection of characters, all of them wound up in Early's eerily prescient Pi yarn. Newbery Medal-winning author Vanderpool's sharp, honest narrative, sparkling with the stars of the night sky, pieces together an elaborate, layered plot with precision, weaving multiple threads into a careful, tidy conclusion perfectly suited for those, like Jack and Early, who want to believe. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Vanderpool took home the big Newbery prize for Moon Over Manifest (2010), making this publication--which includes a national author tour--a publishing event. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 January
The numbers never lie

In both of Clare Vanderpool’s artfully written novels, the young protagonists’ fathers yank them out of the lives they’ve known and deposit them in unfamiliar surroundings, where they must make sense of the past and find their way in a strange new present.

But while Abilene (the main character in the 2011 Newbery Medal winner Moon Over Manifest) and 13-year-old Jack Baker of Navigating Early both narrate richly layered tales that explore memory, loss, discovery and redemption, their stories are in fact quite different.

Vanderpool says in an interview from her home in Wichita, Kansas, “Abilene has never lived in one place or been grounded in a community, and that’s what she’s sent to.” By contrast, “Jack was comfortable and grounded, and now he’s at the edge of the country without any bearings.”

Indeed, when Kansas-boy Jack sees the ocean for the first time, he throws up. A bumpy cargo-plane ride to the Maine coast contributed to his stomach upset, but his disorientation also stems from emotional upheaval: World War II has just ended, Jack’s mother has recently died, and his father has brought him east to attend a boys’ boarding school near his military post in Portsmouth. Although Jack can appreciate the salty air, the ocean waves are forbidding and the multi-hued sand reminds him of his beloved mother, who was like “sand that clings to your body, leaving its impression on your skin to remind you of where you’ve been and where you come from.”

Even as he grieves the loss of his mother and his home, Jack begins to explore his new surroundings, goes out for the crew team and becomes friends with a boy named Early Auden. Early is an intelligent, eccentric sort: He’s obsessed with the Appalachian brown bear and timber rattlesnake, plays Billie Holliday only when it rains, and he has excellent water-sports skills, too.

That bundle of attributes make Early irresistibly intriguing to Jack, and as the boys grow closer, Early reveals something even more fascinating: The numbers of pi have colors, and he can read in the numbers a dramatic and exciting story that’s going to help him find that brown bear—and his brother, a soldier who was lost in the war.

Jack listens to each installment of the adventures of Pi (the hero of Early’s tale), but is skeptical about the story, let alone the possibility of finding bear or brother. Even so, he joins Early on his quest: The two explore on land and sea along the Appalachian Trail, and encounter a range of unusual people with their own stories—some scary, some poignant, all of them mysteriously similar to the people and places in the tale of Pi’s journey.

Navigating Early is a complex story, to be sure, and it’s all the more satisfying for its poetic language and intimation that not everything has a logical explanation. Vanderpool herself is quite comfortable with the latter notion. “Jack’s mom introduces that idea to him . . . the way our paths cross, our lives intersect and collide,” she says. “They’re all things I’ve experienced in my own life. I know this story pushes magical realism just a tad, but I’m okay with that because, in my own life, there are amazing things that happen, coincidences and connections you would never expect.”

The novel’s exploration of the ways in which physical places can shape our emotions is also a theme that’s been central to Vanderpool’s experience. “That absolutely comes from me,” she says. “I’ve traveled a lot, and have lived in the same neighborhood my whole life, which I love. It’s very much part of my makeup.” She adds with a laugh, “When I was dating my husband, I joked with him and said, ‘Where you go, I go! Pick any house on these four streets.’” And so he did: They and their four children live in a house two blocks from Vanderpool’s childhood home.

Having her mother nearby is something Vanderpool enjoys, not least because the idea for Navigating Early was touched off by her mother’s description of a vivid dream about a young man who was an exceptionally talented pianist. “That got me thinking,” she says. “I thought it would be interesting to write about a younger character with some type of savant ability.”

She began to do research about savants, and about pi, which, she says, “is the be-all, end-all for people that are into [math]. . . . It has a magical, mystical quality.” A trip to Maine helped solidify the landscape in her mind. And then, Vanderpool says, Early made himself known: “At a certain point,” she explains, “you let go of the inspiration and research and the characters take over. . . . It might sound strange because they’re characters you’re making up, but it’s the only way I can describe it. You give them a chance to tell you who they are.”

Fortunately, Vanderpool was listening. In doing so, she has created a memorable story that is by turns poignant, funny and exciting—and reminds us not to rule out the possibility that there might be a bit of magic in our everyday lives.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Both outsiders in their mid-1940s Maine prep school, Jack and Early are each mourning someone: Jack's mother has died; Early has lost his beloved older brother to the war. While the writing is as minutely observant as it was in the author's Newbery-winning Moon over Manifest, this book has a stronger trajectory, developed when Vanderpool sends the boys on a life-changing quest.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #2
e-book ed. 978-0-307-97412-9 $9.99

Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #2
Returning to themes she explored so affectingly in Moon Over Manifest (2011), Newbery Medalist Vanderpool delivers another winning picaresque about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness--and the power of stories. Thirteen-year-old Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother's death at the end of World War II. He 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. 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. En route, Early spins out Pi's evolving saga, and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the stories. Vanderpool ties all these details, characters, and 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 exploits may strain credulity; Jack's self-awareness often seems beyond his years, and there are coincidences that may seem too convenient. It's all of a piece with Vanderpool's craftsmanship. Her tapestry is woven and finished off seamlessly. The ending is very moving, and there's a lovely, last-page surprise that Jack doesn't know but that readers will have been tipped off about. Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it's well worth the effort. (author's note, with questions and answers, list of resources) (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2013 August/September
Jack Baker is your average 13-year-old boy growing up in Kansas at the conclusion of World War II. After his mother's death, his Navy Captain father moves them to Maine. Being the new kid at a boarding school is tough. Jack is attracted to Early Auden, who is an autistic mathematical savant fascinated by Pi. The boys become fast friends, and embark on a series of adventures while crossing paths with random characters who breathe life into Early's tales. Vanderpool captivates readers as she intertwines the stories of multiple characters in a way that culminates in a satisfactory ending. The writing is free-spirited and whimsical at times, but easily read by a wide range of readers. With the major male characters in the novel, expect male readers to be attracted to this story, but don't discount the level of interest from females as well. The tale appeals to a variety of fans of historical fiction and fantasy. Nick Petrosino, School Librarian, Ridgeview Junior High, Pickerington, Ohio Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED Copyright 2012 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #3

"You have to look for the things that connect us all. Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide," Jack's mother told him before she died. Her words will come to have special meaning for readers spellbound by this atmospheric novel set at the end of WWII from Newbery Medalist Vanderpool (Moon over Manifest). After his mother is buried, 13-year-old Jack--a clear-eyed narrator with a great sense of humor, despite his recent heartbreak--is sent to a Maine boarding school, where he meets an eccentric student named Early Auden, who might today be labeled autistic. Early is obsessed with the number pi and believes that Pi is a boy on an epic journey, and in danger. Jack agrees to accompany Early on his quest to rescue Pi, and as the boys head into the wilderness, their adventures have an eerie resemblance to Early's stories about Pi, as do Jack and Early's own sad histories. This multilayered, intricately plotted story has a kaleidoscopic effect, blurring the lines between reality and imagination, coincidence and fate. Ages 9-12. Agent: Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Literary Agency. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 March

Gr 6-9--When Jack's mother passes away, his military father returns home to pack him up and ship him off to boarding school in Maine. Wading through the emotional trauma of grief and trying to adjust to his new surroundings, Jack feels that he doesn't really fit in anywhere. It is not until he befriends the school's resident outsider that he finds someone who might be able to help him navigate the troubled waters of his future. Early's older brother, Fisher, is a school legend, and the boy refuses to believe that he perished in the war. He sees numbers as having colors and narratives and believes that the story of Pi is also the story that will lead his brother home. Early sets off on an epic quest to find the Great Bear that has been ravaging the countryside as he believes it will lead him to Fisher. When Jack teams up with Early to find a bear, a brother, and an unending number, both boys finally find their way back home. Set just after World War II, this novel, like Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010), once again meticulously blends an intricately plotted and layered story line with a fully realized historical backdrop. Interesting characters meander through the boys' adventure, fitting themselves into the pieces of their story as it begins to weave together. Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this satisfying tale.--Jessica Miller, New Britain Public Library, CT

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